Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Can a massage cause a stroke?

Ask the doctor

Can a massage cause a stroke?

Q. I have a deep muscle massage every month or so. After my sister had a stroke, I started worrying that my massages could loosen any plaque in my carotid arteries, which could make me have a stroke. Could this happen?

A. As you might have guessed, there aren't any solid scientific data on this question. But there are a few things we do know that should put your mind at ease. Most atherosclerotic plaques are firmly bonded to the artery wall. It is rare for plaque to suddenly break free, travel through the circulation, and block an artery in the brain. It is far more common for small breaks in the surface of a plaque to cause fragile blood clots that can easily break free.

Can a massage break open a plaque, leading to a blood clot? That isn't likely. The force of a vigorous massage doesn't really compare with the constant pounding that plaque faces with each individual heartbeat, or with the increase in blood pressure that occurs when you get out of bed in the morning to brush your teeth. So when it comes to stroke, having a deep muscle massage should be fine.

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