Spinal cord injury massage benefits

What are the Benefits of Massage for Spinal Cord Injury Patients?

Spinal cord injury (SCI) patients face a number of challenges on the road to recovery and rehabilitation. For some, it can mean making significant changes to the way they have previously lived their lives.

Recovery might include switching to a healthier diet, finding different ways to exercise and utilising a whole host of therapies to help ease their condition.

Having a regular massage following a spinal cord injury has been proven to provide a number of benefits to patients. Massage is not just the province of spa rooms and gentle stress relief. It’s a therapy that can help improve circulation, impact positively on muscle tone, improve skin elasticity, and even relieve pain.

Massage uses a series of strokes, presses, taps and kneading to achieve the required effect. There are a range of different techniques and how much benefit you get will depend on the type and level of severity of your spinal cord injury as well as the form of massage you choose.

Massage Benefits Following a Spinal Cord Injury

The benefits of massage for spinal cord injury patients range from simple relaxation and stress-busting to aiding physical improvements and even helping to improve mental health.

  • For many SCI patients, particularly those with complete paralysis, loss of muscle tone can be a huge challenge.
  • Connected to muscle tone is range of motion and the two tend to work together. Improving the amount that you can move may also benefit your future prognosis and your ability to recover from a spinal cord injury.
  • Pain reduction is another area that massage can often help with. Many individuals with spinal cord injuries suffer from chronic pain issues and research has shown that massage techniques alleviate this, improving quality of life and perception all around.
  • Massage is also good at improving the circulation, something that is certainly important for those suffering from spinal cord injuries. Those who are wheelchair users, for example, will find that blood flow to the legs and feet decreases and massage is able to improve this.
  • One overall impact of massage following a spinal cord injury is that it boosts serotonin levels and this can have a positive effect on mental health. A study with SCI patients found that massage is useful in reducing depression and anxiety.
  • It’s not just the affected areas that massage can help with. If you are suffering from an overuse injury, massage can assist in repairing the damage and relaxing and strengthening the muscles.
Spinal cord injury massage

Relaxation vs Deep Tissue Massage

There are various types of massage and those with spinal cord injuries need to understand the associated risks of each, as well as their benefits.

The individual will need to make the distinction between massage techniques that provide relaxation and those that are more intensive. Deep tissue massage generally requires more force and is focused on releasing chronic muscle tension. This may not be suitable for those with certain types of spinal cord injury, particularly if it is likely to aggravate inflammation and make things worse.

Associated Risks

There are a number of risks that can be associated with deep tissue massage and other more invasive techniques.

  • Muscle crush can be caused if the area being massaged has been considerably weakened due to the injury and too much pressure is used. This is generally unlikely but choosing a massage therapist who has experience of dealing with SCI clients should decrease the potential for injury.
  • Myopathy occurs when the muscle is damaged or weakened and this can be exacerbated by more intense massage techniques.
  • Some individuals with spinal cord injuries experience headaches after having a deep tissue massage.
  • In more severe circumstances, there is the possibility of further cervical spinal cord injury and acute paraplegia as a result of massage.

Because of the potential risks involved in having a deep tissue massage, it’s always important to consult with a medical professional before proceeding with this type of therapy. Massage can be effective for many spinal cord injury patients, but it’s not suitable for everyone.


Massage is a useful therapeutic tool those with spinal cord injuries can use to maintain good health and assist in recovery. However, it’s important to get the right medical advice and to take time to find someone who has experience of working with SCI patients.