Is it safe to have a massage if you have a heart condition?

Woman having a professional back massage

I have a heart condition. Is it safe for me to have a massage?

BHF Senior Cardiac nurse Philippa Hobson says: 

For most people, a massage is a safe and effective way to relax, but if you have certain heart or circulatory conditions, it may damage your health. You should always check with your specialist doctor or nurse beforehand that the type of massage you want is safe for you.

If you have an abnormal heart rhythm, such as atrial fibrillation (AF), it is particularly important to check with your specialist, as you are at higher risk of blood clots that could travel in your bloodstream to your brain, lungs or limbs as pressure is applied.

During a massage, pressure moves fluid around your body, which can affect your heart and circulatory system, especially your blood pressure. Your therapist may need to check your blood pressure before and after. Get off the massage table slowly, sit up gradually and have a drink of water afterwards.

If you have heart failure, your specialist may advise you to just have gentle massages where you’ll still be sitting up (especially if you have breathing difficulties when you lie flat), such as hands, feet or head and neck massages.

If you have a device such as a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), it is usually ok to have a massage, as long as the therapist avoids the area where the device was inserted. If you take anticoagulant medication (blood thinners, such as warfarin or apixaban), you may find you bruise much more easily, so deep tissue massage won’t be suitable.

If you’ve had a heart attack or are recovering from heart surgery, it is common to feel anxious, so having a massage may help you to relax. Discuss with your specialist how long you need to wait, as you may have wounds that need to heal.

Whatever condition you have, the practitioner must be qualified and should do a thorough assessment of your health and ask about any medication you take. Avoid eating a heavy meal or drinking alcohol beforehand.

If your specialist is happy for you to have a massage, and you enjoy it, it can be a good idea. Some studies have shown that massage can help to reduce blood pressure and improve sleep.

Photo of Philippa Hobson

Meet the expert

Philippa Hobson is a BHF Senior Cardiac nurse. She has more than 30 years of cardiac nursing experience, specialising in cardiac surgery, coronary care and cardiac rehab.


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