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Bravo! You got vaxxed but now you ache all over... So, is it safe to get massaged?

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

The author of this article is Ruth Werner. Ruth is a former massage therapist, a writer, and an NCBTMB - approved provider of continuing education. She wrote A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology (available at now in its seventh edition, which is used in massage schools worldwide.

Ruth's answer: My recommendation is to wait at least two days after each injection (it’s a series of two, about a month apart), just in case the person has a negative reaction. Most people will have some local arm pain and swelling, but some people will have more severe, flu-like symptoms. For the latter, massage should be delayed until they are back to full speed.

Ruth's rationale: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently being administered are m-RNA vaccines. This is a new technology that induces an immune system response to SARS-CoV-2 without exposure to the virus. In other words, this vaccine cannot possibly cause even a low-grade form of COVID-19, but it equips the immune system to launch a powerful response to fight off an infection.

The m-RNA vaccine strategy appears to be safe and effective — that’s the good news. It also appears to initiate robust T-cell activity, which leads to longer-lasting protection than B-cells alone — also good news. However, these vaccines have a higher rate of side effects than we see with some other vaccines: they are reactogenic (likely to create reactions). This is good; it shows the body is creating a healthy and aggressive stance. But it is also uncomfortable. Specifically, side effects include pain and swelling at the injection site (this happens for most patients), along with systemic symptoms like fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

Follow-up surveys about systemic post-vaccine reactions suggest they are more common in younger patients than in older ones, and they are often more severe after the second dose than after the first dose. If these reactions happen at all, they develop within 48 hours of the injection, and most people find they resolve after a day of discomfort.

To conclude, if a client has had a COVID-19 vaccination, it is wisest to avoid massage for at least two days, just in case they have a delayed, uncomfortable reaction. If they do have symptoms, then delay massage until they feel better. (By “massage” here I mean Swedish-based, mechanical-manipulation of the tissues, rather than less intrusive forms).

Photo by: Towfiqu Barbhuiya

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