Thai Massage: not for ME/CFS

Thai massage: not for ME

Last week I learned two very important lessons. One: Thai massages are a lot more vigorous than I imagined. Two: They f***ing hurt.

I should probably put a disclaimer in at this point. Alongside my ME I have what I’m currently calling “undiagnosed pain issues”. Basically the rheumatologist has told me it may be fibromyalgia, it may be hypermobility syndrome (he noted that I definitely am hypermobile and that I demonstrated “self dislocation of the right elbow”, or, as he put it at the time, “EURRRGH!”) but he’s sending me for a lip biopsy first because my dry eyes, ulcers, thirst and low levels of inflammation could also be pointing to something called Sjogren’s syndrome. And the blood test can give false negatives. So basically, what I’m saying is, there’s reason to believe I may be more sensitive to what I think was the strongest woman on the face of the earth taking out years and years of suppressed anger on my poor wimpy squidgy body, than your average punter.

Thai Massage: Not for M.E.This all started with a particularly bad spell of shoulder pain. Up until recently, my method of rotating my shoulder in the socket until it clicks and putting a hot wheat bag on it to soothe it seemed to actually make it a lot better for a week or so. Last week this stopped being the case. I wriggled around in bed trying to find a comfortable position where my hip, knees and ankles didn’t burn with pain and my shoulder didn’t feel like it was about to pop out of the socket (it’s yet to do that but let’s not tempt fate).

Long story short: it didn’t work. So when someone suggested getting a tens machine for period pain I thought maybe it would allow me to relieve my shoulder pain enough to get some precious sleep. Alas, what happened over the next couple of days was a series of events where I tried to relieve my pain and instead made it much worse.

The tens machine: I’ve not used one before, but I went for the setting that combines the temporary nerve blocking pain relief and the longer term endorphin releasing pain relief. I think I put it on too high. Apparently my version of a “strong tingling sensation” is not the same as whoever wrote the instructions. Perhaps the months of the unprovoked strong tingling sensations I had when I first got ill have skewed my judgement. After a while my back started twitching. I figured this meant it was too high and turned it down. Too late. While my original pain was nicely relieved it was replaced by a trapped nerve type pain in my neck. Over the next few hours my shoulder and neck muscles knotted themselves tightly in response. My partner tried to massage it out. I put heat patches on the area, which soothed it a little, but I had an even worse night’s sleep than the previous night. For some reason every time I drifted off I lurched awake gasping for breath, something that has never happened before or since. I spent the next day barely able to function. Sitting scrunched up on the sofa in pain crying with exhaustion. I couldn’t even rest as it hurt more laying down. It was at this point Ivan suggested…

The Thai massage: we have a place really close to our house, so even though the walk itself was a mammoth task in my current state, when he suggested it I knew it was possible to get there and at that point I was willing to do anything to get rid of the pain so I agreed. What he didn’t tell me was how rough they were with you, what I didn’t tell him is I have far too much pride for my own good and am not good at telling people if they’re hurting me. I have had many a haircut where I felt like they were melting my scalp and I’ve barely flinched.

So I silently endured half an hour of this woman secretly whacking me with a huge iron mallet and then pretending she wasn’t whenever I looked up at her. Very sneaky indeed. I cannot believe that such pain could be caused by such delicate hands. I swore a fair few times, and at one point I told her to stop a particular move that felt like she was coaxing out the knot in my neck by smashing it with a heavy boulder, but I mostly endured by digging my hands into the bed (when she wasn’t moving them into different positions) and clenching my teeth. Safe to say I did not come out of there feeling relaxed. I came out of their feeling like I’d been in a fight with a herd of elephants. But that was okay, I thought, if the pain goes away.

The few token marks from my ordeal (on my arm)

I’ll give it to them, the pain I went to them with was about 70% better the next day. The problem was that now every inch of my back, neck and arms was so sore that leaning back on the sofa hurt. I felt very similar to when I was hit by a car as a teenager. I was tender in places I didn’t know could be tender. It hurt to rest. And my neck still had that sharp, metallic twang that said the trapped nerve type pain hadn’t entirely gone. I got more sleep than the previous night, but only, I think, due to my exhaustion at this point. I was a mess. I just wanted something hot placed over the whole area. I kept looking at my back expecting it to be covered in big purple bruises. It wasn’t even marked. My arms did break out in spots of blood just below the skin though. She only briefly touched my arms. I was glad I had received some sort of mark to show what my body had been through. I remember when I was hit by a car showing off my big swollen purple knee to people and grinning with glee at their disgust. This time, I felt slightly robbed of the chance to do this. I guess I wanted a big physical mark to wear like a badge of honour and say “see, I’m not mad, that really did f***ing hurt”.

Anyway, as we all know with ME, the outside isn’t great at showing what’s going on on the inside.

There’s not much point to this post, other than to give some of you a laugh and to warn others with my or similar conditions: if you are considering a Thai massage, maybe reconsider. What I would suggest at this point, and I may try if this happens again, is a gentle therapeutic massage that is mostly designed to make you feel blissfully relaxed and not designed to actually do much to the muscles. I personally reckon I could cope with that. My Physio used to give me brief massages when my back tightened up and threw my posture off and when my IT band tightened up and pulled me the other way. I can’t say those massages were ever pleasant, she left a few bruises, I had tears in my eyes a fair few times, but she talked to me on and on to distract me until it started to let go and eventually I found myself chatting away happily forgetting that two minutes earlier I couldn’t bear it. I left feeling better than when I came. But she only did it for five minutes or so.

Perhaps the real lesson here, much like when using public transport and secretly hating everyone for not psychically realising I need a seat, is I need to learn to speak up for myself. Putting on a brave face isn’t particularly brave with this condition, it’s stupid.

My lesson is learned. Not all massages are equal, not all bodies are designed for the vigors of the Thai massage.

Best wishes, from Laura (and her pen) x



Laura Chamberlain

Laura is a writer blogging about living with chronic illness, namely Lyme Disease, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) and Fibromylagia.

She likes food, cats, bad jokes. Unfortunately, her boyfriend is allergic to the last two...

1 Comment

  1. Hi Laura! Wish I had read this post BEFORE I went for my Thai massage last week. The following day I slid into more of a relapse and have stayed there. Was it pushing the pressure points all over, pulling on my arms and legs, or was it that my body’s Chi had a bad reaction to getting moved around?

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