Massages are often recommended by many people as a coping strategy for sickle cell pain management. Many Warriors have been able to get massages with no problems. However, based on one of our discussion questions on the Facebook page, about half the group stated that getting a massage led to a sickle cell crisis shortly thereafter.
Massages can help with general muscular aches and pains. They are also effective because they promote blood circulation throughout the tissues of the body. SickleCell warriors love hot stone massages and hot oil massages. This can reduce pain if you are having a minor crisis, like a pain level of 1-5. However, if you are in significant pain greater than a Five, a massage might not help and may even make things a lot worse.
By increasing the circulation to superficial skin and tissues, massages can trigger pain. If your sickling cells were active and forced to flow quicker, they may block and clog up the tiny arterioles, venuoles, and capillaries. Obviously this defeats the purpose of a massage. I’ve noticed that when I am in actual pain, rubbing area helps a bit and may distract from the pain. However, if my husband —who has a stronger grip, was to rub the same area, this would be much more uncomfortable for me and even painful.
The general consensus was that a firm deep tissue massage led to the most pain and soreness after. It was recommended especially if you are working with a new masseuse, that you tell them to start out with a lighter massage. Another suggestion was to avoid massages to the joints, because this had triggered pain in many adults.
Keep in mind that most spas are kept cool, while the massage room might be warm. A sickle cell crisis can be triggered just by moving from one temperature extreme to another. So even if you had a great massage; leaving the room when you have a massage done and moving to the general areas might be enough to trigger a crisis once the cold air rushes on you. This happened to me a couple of times. I have found that the best solution is to completely dress while I am in the massage room and be covered from neck to toes before I go outside. Another strong recommendation was to ask masseuse to warm up the room before you go into the room, just in case the room is not warm enough for you.
As with all activities, it’s important that we hydrate before, during, and after the massage in order to ensure that we do not get excessively dehydrated from all the sweating that occurs. Massages often release toxins from your tissues and it’s important to have the extra water in your system to flush out those toxins.
Try as much as possible not to be fully undressed because this exposes more of your body to the cold. Someone also recommended possibly premedicating or having some Motrin, Advil, or Aleve on hand just in case you do start to have pain.
Although massages feel really good, it’s important that we take the steps to reduce a full-blown crisis from a massage. Please share your thoughts and experiences about massages in the comments section and any other tips you might have.
Sickle Cell Warrior.