Why Does it Itch After a Massage / Essential Guide


itchy after massage

Many people who try massage for the first time or use massage equipment wonder why does it itch after a massage?

This article is an essential guide to recognising when the ‘itch’ is nothing to worry about or if you need to see your doctor for further review.


Short answer to ‘Why Does it Itch After a Massage’:  itch (also called pruritus – source) maybe present due to a number of factors, some of which may indicate a more serious medical condition, so consulting your doctor if it persists is advised.

However, there is current ongoing research which suggests the increased blood flow during and after a massage, ‘wakes up’ the nerves surrounding the muscles which may have been stretched beyond their normal range. This is true if you are not used to exercising or massage of a given area of the body.

Usually itching is localised to the area that has been massaged but doesn’t result in a rash or raised areas of the skin.

If you do have a rash you should also ask your doc to give you a once over to rule out any underlying issues.

Long answer: Read on for essential information and what to expect after a massage…


Some of my other articles on massage gadgets you may be interested in:

If you were interested in a percussion massager and if they are safe, here is a recent article I wrote highlighting some of the dangers of percussive massage – What is a Handheld Percussion Massager and Are They Safe to Use?

Massage cushions are very popular as they can give you a fantastic massage for a fraction of the cost of a massage chair or a course of professional massage. Here is a recent article on – Massage Cushion Benefits for Back, Sciatica and Pregnancy


Reasons for Itching After a Massage:

itchy muscles after massage

Experiencing itch after a massage is a commonly reported side-effect though not everyone experiences this. It is not the surface of the skin but the deep muscle fibres that can cause this.

If there is also a rash present on the surface of the skin you should consult your doctor as this isn’t usually present. It may be something as simple as an allergic reaction to any massage oil or cream used or perhaps the intensity of the massage.

It may also indicate underlying health issues you know nothing about. For this reason – always seek medical advice. Don’t just trust some opinion in a non-authoritative blog.

I have been a qualified nurse for over 20 years and have seen allergic reactions for many different reasons, from mild contact dermatitis to anaphylaxis – which is a life threatening condition.

Can increased blood flow after a massage cause itching?

This is a contentious issue. For thousands of years the benefits of massage have been understood. Both physiological and psychological benefits are well documented and accepted.

There is an argument for the ‘increased blood flow’ hypothesis but in reality the volume of blood doesn’t increase as such. Therefore increased blood flow causing itching is misleading.

The reason for feeling an itch after a massage is more due to manipulation of deep tissues which may not be used to moving so much! The nerves surrounding these deep tissues and muscles are stimulated which can be said to cause ‘referred nerve sensation itching’.

For many athletes and regular gym users the itching feeling is familiar. This could be the result of the brain mistaking the swelling capillaries and blood flow due to extra demand on the muscles during exercise or massage.

How to stop itch after massage?

It is important to remember if the itching is referred it will decrease quite quickly after the stimulated muscles have recovered. Quite often, as with any new sensation, once you understand what is happening you feel in control and less anxious and uncomfortable. (source)

Does massage release histamine and cause itching?

What is histamine?

Histamine is involved in the inflammatory response and has a central role as a mediator of itching. (source)

Research findings state:

‘One hypothesis is that the shear stress caused by massage may induce cutaneous mast cells to release histamine, thereby improving the local tissue microcirculation of blood…histamine is produced by basophils and by mast cells found in nearby connective tissues.’

This basically means the massage stimulates the tissues, increases blood flow and the body’s inflammatory response launches into action to fight a presumed threat.

Histamine rash after massage

Massage, especially deep tissue, increases release of histamine

Histamine acts as a neurotransmitter, increasing the permeability of blood vessels. This increases the permeability of blood vessels which results in vasodilation, which can cause localised redness and heat in the specific area.

Are there toxins in muscle knots?

There has been much debate and research around this contentious issue, and also many myths.

Myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) is a medical term for muscle pain. This is pain and inflammation in the soft tissues.

MPS is a chronic condition and it affects the fascia (connective tissue that covers the muscles).

Some of the theories suggest the fluid around damaged muscles is ‘acidic’ and the act of pushing/massaging the trigger points will allow less acidic blood to perfuse the area and allow healing and recovery.

Does massage actually release toxins and does this cause itching?

It does… kinda. But it is more complex than just saying toxins will be removed through massage.

The nerves surrounding the deep muscles are stimulated because of pressure on the muscles.

Why are toxins released after a massage?

Sometimes people can feel worse after a massage which may make you question the benefits. However, after a deep tissue massage it may take a little time before you do feel the benefit. This is due in part to manipulating and stimulating deep muscle fibres.

Research suggests, massage isn’t removing toxins at all but perhaps creating them! This is based in the effects of crush injury.

When muscles are injured by being crushed, the cells are obviously crushed causing the ‘innards’ spilling out into the blood stream. This will alter blood chemistry affecting the kidneys.

This is an extreme example of how ‘toxins’ can spill out into the blood causing very serious life threatening issues. However, the mechanism of crush, squeezing etc is ostensibly the same in deep tissue massage, though hopefully no so potentially catastrophic!

So when it is said massage gets rid of toxins this is a slightly simplistic way to think of it.

The results of deep tissue massage can make you feel a certain level of malaise and feeling generally unwell somewhat like flu. However, these feelings are short-lived and a feeling of well-being does follow.

What type of toxins are released after a massage?

It is true, you may feel worse after a deep tissue massage. This is due, in part to physiological changes.

As to ‘detox’ massage, this may be misleading. But there is a whole industry offering different detox regimes, many of which may be bogus.

Can itching after deep tissue massage be a sign of nerve damage?

Yes you can damage nerves with deep tissue massage. But this is rare and does not usually cause long term damage. Nerves are robust, usually ‘cushioned’ and protected by other tissues and if damaged can recover relatively quickly.

Deep tissue manual massage is less likely to cause damage. If you use massage tools, especially percussion massagers you should be aware of the danger of ‘over-working’. This article explains the dangers of percussion massagers – What is a Handheld Percussion Massager and Are They Safe to Use?

Why do you need to drink water after a deep tissue massage?

Massage increases the movement of fluids in the body just by the mere fact of manipulation and ‘pummelling’ the muscles. The kidneys will excrete this fluid naturally.

Many people are thirty after a massage and also need to urinate. If you don’t replenish fluid intake you can become dehydrated. This will cause headaches and reduce recovery time in the short term.

There is little research proving that water ‘flushes out’ toxins. But it is important to ensure you are sufficiently hydrated after a massage.

Why do some people feel itchy after using a massage chair?

Many people itch after a massage from a chair is much the same as reaction to any form of massage. The mechanical actions of the rollers within the massage chair stimulate the muscles. This is similar way to manual massage from a professional massage therapist.

There are some important things to consider if you do itch after a massage. It may indicate other health issues.

Some of these health issues may have nothing to do with massaging alone. If itching continues seek medical advice.

How to avoid Itchiness after a massage

Once you have ruled out contact dermatitis from using a massage oil or cream, be aware that the itching may be rooted deep in the muscles that have been massaged.

This itching will disappear quickly but if it continues seek medical advice as it may indicate other underlying issues. If you experience itching in areas of the body that have not been massaged, you should definately ask your medical practitioner for advice.

You can draw a line around the itchy, inflamed areas to measure if it is spreading. If it does, again ask your doctor for advice.

Is it normal to feel worse after a massage?

Yes it can make you feel unwell after a massage. This is due to stimulating deep tissues and the nerves surrounding the muscles. This will pass relatively quickly. If you continue to feel unwell you should see your doctor for further investigation.

Can you be allergic to massage oil?

Yes you can. Any topical cream or oil can cause an allergic reaction. If you do have itching, raised bumps, redness and or heat then stop using that oil or cream.

Try using another brand or type of oil. Work your way through the different ones until you find one you don’t have a reaction to.

There are some important points to consider. Some essential oils do have serious side effects and may be dangerous to use.

References:

  • Effects of a skin-massaging device on the ex-vivo expression of human dermis proteins and in-vivo facial wrinkles (source)
  • The Intriguing Role of Histamine in Exercise Responses (source)
  • Effects of shear stress on intracellular calcium change and histamine release in rat basophilic leukemia (RBL-2H3) cells.(source)
  • Simons DG. New Views of Myofascial Trigger Points: Etiology and Diagnosis. Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 2008 Jan;89(1):157–159 (source)

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