Can You Use A Handheld Massager While Pregnant?
The back pain associated with being pregnant is nothing to laugh at. I hurt! Is it safe for me to use my handheld massager while I’m pregnant? I have no idea. This is not a topic to be played around with, so it’s time for some serious research.
Can you use a handheld massager while pregnant? Yes, but with a lot of thought and planning: avoid during the first trimester, not on the lower legs, and definitely not on the abdomen. Speak with your OB/GYN first, particularly if you’re having a difficult pregnancy.
Yeah, that’s a lot of caveats for a simple question! However, the research is all over the place. Some say absolutely use that massager, some say, no way, the risk isn’t worth it. Synthesizing all the information together, it seems there are positives and negatives to using a handheld massager while pregnant.
Benefits of Using Handheld Massager While Pregnant
The pains of pregnancy in your feet, back, legs, abdomen, and sometimes, even your arms are a pain most of us are not prepared for. The current focus is on the benefits of massage. What are some of the benefits of using a handheld massager during pregnancy? Let’s explore.
Decrease Your Level of Stress
Using a handheld massager during your pregnancy can decrease your level of stress by relaxing the muscles and reducing the level of stress hormone in your body.
Pregnancy is already stressful enough without the adding sore muscles to the equation. So, anything you can do to reduce that stress level is good for you and good for your little peanut, too.
Research shows that massage can help increase endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine and decrease cortisol and norepinephrine levels in the body. That means it increases the “feel good” chemicals and reduces the “stress” chemicals your body naturally secretes. Basically, it is a martini without the booze. I know that’s something every pregnant woman can cheer about!
No Mom-to-be will question the value of a good night’s sleep. The muscle-relaxing quality of massage, coupled with the reduced stress levels, can improve your sleep significantly.
A more rested Mom is a healthier Mom and makes for a healthier pregnancy, overall. That’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever heard of one.
Reduces depression and anxiety
There is no question that pregnancy is a time of high anxiety and that depression is a common factor for many pregnant women.
As noted, massage increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the body, both of which help in the reduction of depression and reduced anxiety levels.
Anxiety can also lead to tense musculature, primarily in the upper shoulder regions. Massage is first-rate in reducing or eliminating anxiety-related tension and reducing the occurrence of tension headaches.
Relaxes Your Muscles
The primary benefits associated with massage, outside of stress reduction, is the muscular relaxation it offers.
The very nature of your pregnancy, with the increased frontal weight, leads directly to muscular strain and tension in your lower and mid-back areas and legs. The increased water retention causes swelling in those legs and feet. All this leads directly to sore and tight muscles.
Massage increases blood flow to the muscle, improving oxygenation, and relaxes the muscle tissues and fibers. Speaking less physiologically, it gets the knots out. Plus, it simply feels good.
Sciatica nerve flare-ups are common during pregnancy. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that runs below the uterus and travels down the back of the leg. When compressed or irritated, it can cause shooting, radiating pain from hip to foot. Your growing bundle of joy can easily cause that compression or irritation to occur.
Massage is a wonderful way to reduce the irritation and associated symptoms of pregnancy-related sciatica.
Risks of Using Handheld Massager While Pregnant
As with all things good, there is a negative side as well. It would be remiss not to discuss the negative concerns of using a handheld massager while pregnant. I know you’ve heard it repeatedly, but it bears repeating….speak with your doctor or healthcare provider first.
Some research indicates that no one should receive massage therapy of any type during the first trimester of pregnancy, except under the care of their doctor. For those unfamiliar with the term, the first trimester is the first 3 months. While these recommendations have changed with updated science, it is best to receive any massage during your first trimester by a licensed massage therapist who is certified in prenatal massage.
The first trimester is the time associated with the highest risk of miscarriage. Many professional massage therapists won’t even consider a massage during this time due to concerns that the increased blood flow could be harmful to the fetus or overall pregnancy.
Additionally, there are trigger points within the body that are thought to begin contractions or potentially trigger early labor.
These trigger points are found primarily in the wrist and ankle regions, though there is some research that finds another behind the knees. There are doctors who will utilize acupressure on these points to help start labor in some circumstances.
PIH or Pregnancy Induced Hypertension
This is a red-flag diagnosis. Pregnancy-induced hypertension, also known as gestational hypertension, generally occurs after week 20 of pregnancy. PIH can lead to preeclampsia in the mother, which can be toxic.
As massage alters blood flow within the body, there is concern that it could cause increased blood pressure and risk to the pregnancy. This is a “speak with your doctor” situation.
Additional related concerns are any type of uncontrolled high blood pressure, whether pregnancy-related or not.
Additionally, during pregnancy, blood volume increases drastically, up to 50%. At the same time, blood flow to the legs can become sluggish. Additionally, the body begins to produce higher levels of anticoagulants.
This combination leads to a much higher risk of developing blood clots in the lower legs, particularly in the calves or inner thighs. A clot is a potentially life-threatening event.
Areas to Avoid
Due to the nature of pregnancy, there are areas to totally avoid using your handheld massager on. They include:
- Tummy or abdomen
- Lower Back
- Lower Legs
Manual Massage While Pregnant
All the positives and negatives listed for using a handheld massager hold true for manual massage, as well.
However, manual massage offers some considerations that using a handheld massager does not. I think it only fair that we discuss those, as well.
A certified massage therapist is trained in knowing what can and cannot be massaged on a pregnant woman. However, many therapists receive advanced training in pregnancy massage. Make sure your therapist is comfortable and competent in prenatal massage prior to scheduling your massage.
Most amateur users of handheld massagers lack this specialized knowledge on where and how to safely and effectively massage a pregnant woman.
Done improperly, there is a potential risk with massage to the fetus and/or the pregnancy.
This is a manual massage done on a pregnant woman, as we just discussed. Swedish massage techniques seem to be the style of choice. Deep tissue is generally avoided, particularly on the legs or abdomen. Most women find a side-lying position to be most comfortable.
What’s different about it? Certain trigger points, primarily near the wrists and ankles, are avoided to reduce the risk of initiating early contractions. The overall touch tends to be lighter and much more gentle than traditional massage.
A certified practitioner will offer equipment to help support the abdomen and uterine area. These may include foam cut-outs or bolsters, as appropriate. Most current practitioners are now avoiding the “pregnancy” table, which had a cut out for the abdomen, as it does not support the uterus adequately.
If there is ever a time in your life that you deserve to be pampered, during your pregnancy is it.
Going to a licensed, professional massage therapist for your massage offers you that “spoil me” feeling that no handheld massager can offer.
Having someone else taking care of your needs, while you relax and focus on the well-being of you and your unborn child is an intangible, yet undeniable benefit of getting a manual massage during this time.
Pregnancy is one of the most special times in a woman’s life. Ironically, it is also one of the most uncomfortably, physically.
Massage during pregnancy has been shown to be effective in stress reduction, muscle relaxation, improved labor outcomes, and overall better health in the mother and unborn child, when done correctly.
If utilized properly, there is no reason a handheld massager is unsafe in a pregnant woman. Use lighter settings, and avoid the wrist and ankle regions, as well as the abdominal area.
For your back, shoulders, and upper arms, it could be a godsend. However, if you’re looking for relaxation in those lower legs, please be very careful.
As always, please speak with your doctor or healthcare provider before beginning any form of massage during pregnancy, whether from a hand-held unit or a certified therapist.
What’s my advice? Save the handheld massager for post-pregnancy workouts and pay the professional to manage your care during your pregnancy. It feels safer, it’s more relaxing and frankly, you’re worth it!
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS