SINGAPORE - After a particularly painful neck massage, a 40-year-old banker from Singapore suffered a stroke and became a paraplegic consequentially.
Mr Lin claims that his doctors suspect that the excessive force used in the massage broke a blood vessel and resulted in a stroke.
He is now deaf in one ear and is undergoing therapy to regain movement in the left half of his body, Chinese Daily Lianhe Wanbao reported.
According to the paper, Mr Lin is an assistant director of a department in a bank, and was in China recently to visit some friends.
There, he visited a massage parlour to get a foot massage. Upon the therapist's recommendation, he decided to try a neck massage instead.
After the massage, he felt okay. But three days later, he suddenly felt a sharp pain in the left side of his head, and woke up to find that his left ear was deaf.
He also couldn't move the left side of his body, and was unsteady in his gait.
He recalled: "I felt very afraid. It all happened so fast, it was really like a bolt from the blue."
As he was not in condition to be moved, he could not return home immediately for treatment. Mr Lin was sent to a hospital in Hong Kong and hospitalised for about two weeks until doctors deemed him fit for a flight home.
Mr Lin told the Chinese Daily that his doctors suspect that when he underwent the neck massage, the massage therapist tore the vascular wall of an artery accidentally by using too much force.
The damage resulted in the blockage of the artery passage, causing the blood flow to be disrupted.
According to his doctors, Mr Lin suffered vertebral artery dissection, which is a flap-like tear of the inner lining of the vertebral artery - a blood vessel that is located in the neck and supplies blood to the brain.
After the tear, blood enters the arterial wall and forms a blood clot, thickening the artery wall and often impeding blood flow. This can result in intermittent or permanent stroke symptoms such as difficulty speaking, impaired coordination and even vision loss.
According to medical resources, it can be caused by physical trauma to the neck, such as a car accident.
Currently, Mr Lin is undergoing treatment at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's rehabilitation ward.
Last month, he began a "walking" rehabilitation treatment, where he is assisted in walking back and forth along a set path. Doctors said this will help speed up the recovery process.
On August 24, Mr Lin was discharged from hospital. Although he is still easily fatigued, he is now able to walk without the need for crutches.
Other than Mr Lin's case, there've been reports in the media about people who've become paralysed after massages.
In 2006, a woman from Australia suffered a stroke after a company masseur gave her a massage at her workplace.
It is believed that similar to Mr Lin's case, the massage caused a blood vessel in her neck to tear, slowly blocking the blood supply to her brain.
Very real danger
Very real danger
Adjunct Associate Professor Hee Hwan Tak, Medical Director of the Centre for Spine & Scoliosis Surgery - a subsidiary of Singapore Medical Group - told YourHealth that such a scenario is not only possible, it has happened in Singapore before.
"It it is possible to suffer a stroke if the massage is overzealous and the patient has pre-existing issues," said Prof Hee.
According to Prof Hee, this is because there are vertebral arteries in the neck that travel within a relatively confined space intimately related to the vertebrae.
As such, these vertebral arteries may be injured by excess manipulation of the area.
Possible injuries range from blood clots, the clot moving from the neck to the brain, and the dissection of the artery like Mr Lin's case.
"The end result maybe a stroke of the hind brain, leading to giddiness, blurring of vision and even death," he said.
Prof Hee warned that people with pre-existing spinal cord compression from herniated discs or bone spurs are also at risk.
He shared that he once came across a similar case where a patient with a pre-existing herniated disc had his condition aggravated by a massage, leading to near paralysis.
In addition to strokes, Prof Hee said overly forceful massages can also result in fractures or dislocations of the spine, especially in osteoporotic patients.
So are massages safe?
So are neck massages recommended?
Neurologist Dr Siow Hua Chiang told the paper that as the blood vessels at the back of the neck are very small and fragile, it's not recommended to subject the area to excessive force. This includes massages.
However, gentle neck massages done by a trained therapist are fine, Prof Hee said.
But note that if the patient has any pre-existing issues, he or she should highlight it before the massage, he said.
In addition, it is best to not take any pain medications before the massage as this may mask the symptoms of pain that could indicate a problem.
Lastly, if the patient feels unwell during the session, this must be brought to the attention to the therapist immediately and the massage stopped at once.