Massage or Massacre? Spa Injuries Exposed

Looking for answers, Rogers went to New York University Medical Center TISCH Emergency Department. Upon hearing her story and observing her crippling pain, Dr. Dainius Drukteinis became worried about possible broken ribs, a blood clot in her lungs, or even damage to her spleen from the pressure applied during the massage.

Drukteinis, who said he has "definitely seen patients with muscle strains from massage," felt the seriousness of Rogers's symptoms called for "more complex scans … because she was in a lot of pain."

Fortunately, Rogers's tests were normal. The doctor diagnosed her with severe muscle strain and treated her with heavy pain medications and strict instructions to rest.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Luckily, such trauma from a spa visit is rare.

"I can see how these things could happen, but I have yet to see [an] … injury," said Dr. Daniel Rubin, assistant professor of community health and family medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

Dr. John Sutherland, emeritus director of the family practice residency program at Northeast Iowa Medical Education Foundation, also said he has never treated anyone whose injuries came from a massage or spa treatment.

"I have not had any experience with [these] incidents in 45 years," he said.

Most of those who opt for a Swedish massage, according to the AMTA, can expect "the most common type of massage, to relax and energize you" — a far cry from the Swedish beat-down Rogers received.

In spite of Rogers's ordeal, Goldman still has faith in the power of a good massage.

"If [massage] makes them feel better then it's a good thing," he said, but he added a caution: "Pain is a warning sign."

Dr. Danelle Williams, family practitioner at Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, concurs.

"If something feels painful to you, bring it to the attention of the massage professional," she said.

She offered advice for spa patrons: "Always make sure you go to a licensed and reputable massage center and check with your doctor if you have questions."

Williams added that those with known back problems, women who are pregnant, children and those with osteoporosis should be even more cautious when it comes to trusting their body to a masseuse. Those with a small frame — Rogers, for example, is a petite size 0 — may also run a higher risk of a massage-related injury.

But choosing the right spa may be the wisest move of all.

"In other spas, you feel like you don't want to leave," Rogers said. "No one is jumping on the table, pressing you … I'm never getting that massage again, it was so painful."

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