Can a Massage Cause a Carotid Artery Dissection?

According to an article published by NBC News, a 41-year-old mother, Stefanie Smith, recently died while returning home on a plane from the Dominican Republic. Reports say, she started having convulsions in the middle of the flight. Convulsions typically indicate that a person is suffering from a seizure, infection, traumatic brain injury, or a high fever. The plane quickly made a detour to transport Smith to the hospital, which is where she was officially pronounced dead.

While Smith purportedly died of natural causes, her brother confirmed that she died from a carotid artery dissection. He mentioned that he was not aware of her having any pre-existing conditions that could have caused this artery tear; he just knew that she was staying at a resort with her boyfriend and another couple in the Dominican Republic before boarding the flight.

Massages and carotid artery dissection

Although we don’t know what caused Smith’s carotid artery dissection,  she was staying at an all-inclusive resort called Iberostar Grand Bavaro. The resort’s website mentions that there is a Wellness Centre with a spa located inside, and it is common for people to get massages while on vacation or to help them relax and prepare for their long flights back home.

As a result, we decided to look into whether massages can cause carotid artery dissections. And the short answer is yes; in some instances, they can.

The Institute for Integrative Healthcare points out that neck massages can come with serious risks. And, one of those risks is carotid artery dissection. This is because the anterior triangle of your neck includes the carotid arteries, which can tear when a masseuse is manually massaging or using a tool to provide a neck massage. Additionally, Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage mentions that applying deep pressure in the neck area can damage both the nerves and vessels, and that masseuses should  only apply light pressure. Regardless, many massage schools still teach deep pressure massage techniques.

Per the Institute for Integrative Healthcare, massage professionals should make their client aware of any possible consequences of a massage. Minor soreness and bruising may be expected, but some neck massages can actually lead to “stroke, paralysis, or death.”

It is also important for massage professionals to check in with the client frequently when they are massaging the neck. If the client mentions any sudden pain or extreme discomfort, it should be taken seriously. This happened to a woman named Elizabeth Hughes, who brought her sudden neck pain to the attention of her masseuse at a spa. She was quickly told that her pain was simply because she was “tense,” and the masseuse continued with the massage. However, within a week, Hughes was in the hospital suffering from a stroke, which was caused by her carotid artery splitting from the massage. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that a massage could cause a fatal carotid artery dissection.

What else might cause a carotid artery dissection?

Typically, a carotid artery dissection is caused by trauma or significant pressure. (A dissection is a tear of the inner wall of one of the arteries.)

Can a massage cause someone to suffer a carotid artery dissection? Find out from our Washington DC personal injury attorneys.

Johns Hopkins lists potential causes of carotid artery dissection, which include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Sports or exercise injury
  • Surgery
  • Chiropractic neck manipulation
  • Swimming
  • Scuba diving
  • Yoga
  • Roller coasters or other carnival rides
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Giving birth

Another common cause of dissection is negligence during a carotid endarterectomy. In this procedure, doctors remove plaque that has built up on the artery walls. If the surgeon causes a dissection and does not fix it, there is a risk of convulsions (like the woman on the plane), stroke, or fatality.

What are the symptoms of a carotid artery dissection?

If you recently had a massage or were involved in an accident that caused neck pain, you should be on the lookout for symptoms of a carotid artery dissection, which include:

  • Facial or eye pain
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • One smaller pupil or a sagging eyelid
  • Trouble speaking or communicating
  • Memory problems
  • Balance difficulties
  • Feeling confused
  • Numbness or weakness

It is also common for people to have no signs or symptoms whatsoever when experiencing a carotid artery dissection.

If you have been in an accident and are experiencing any pain or unusual symptoms, especially in your neck, you should get medical attention as soon as possible. MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Inova Fairfax Hospital are a few of the highest-ranking hospitals in the Washington, DC area, as well as the entire country.

Please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC through this contact form or by calling our office.