Is Using a Massage Gun on Your Neck Safe? Viral ‘PSA’ Says It Could Lead to Stroke Symptoms


Massage guns are an easy solution to get rid of aches and pains. But are they safe to use on your neck?

In a now-viral TikTok, user Sophie Dolce posted a “PSA” urging people not to use massage guns to get rid of neck pain.

Dolce said after waking up with a kink in her neck, she used a massage gun about every half hour on her neck, shoulders, back, and “underneath [her] skull.”

By the next morning, she was in even more pain after having used the massage gun, and she even found a new lump in the side of her neck.

“I just got out of the doctor’s office, and my doctor was like, ‘Don’t you dare ever use a massage gun on your neck,’” Dolce explained. “What it can do—if you use it on your neck—is it can actually stop the blood flow from going to your brain.”

Apparently, the doctor told Dolce that one of her other patients ended up experiencing strokes from using a massage gun on their neck.

So, is using a massage gun on your neck really that dangerous? Experts say issues are rare but possible.

“If you’re using it right at the base of your skull, it’s not ideal,” Justin Neira, MD, neurological spine surgeon at Och Spine at NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester, told Health. “[Massage guns are] for the back and base of your neck where your shoulders are, and not at the front or sides or skull base.”

Here’s what experts had to say about using these devices on your neck, where on your body using a massage gun is recommended, and how to relieve neck pain safely.

How Do You Use Massage Guns Correctly?

Whether it’s caused by tech neck, poor posture, or something else entirely, neck pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal issues people face.1 And with massage guns being readily available and easy to use, they may seem like popular fixes for these problems.

“Where you want to use it is where your muscles are,” said Neira. “That’s what it’s designed to do, is loosen up tension in muscles.”

Research has shown that these massage guns can improve flexibility to some degree, reduce stiffness, and improve short-term range of motion.

“If you stay on the muscles, especially on the back part of your neck, then it is much safer to use,” said Ryan Krzyzanowicz, DAT, ATC, clinical associate professor and program director of the Master of Science in Athletic Training program at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

In Rare Instances, Massage Guns Can Be Dangerous

Though they’re generally safe, veering away from your muscles or using the massager too frequently can cause issues.

If a person has neck pain that’s bugging them, they might be tempted to use a massage gun quite frequently, Neira explained. However, that opens the door for possible bruising, swelling, or general “soft tissue trauma,” he said.

“Anytime we put a lot of pressure against our skin for a long time, you can have local tissue injury,” he said.

But there’s also the possibility for more serious injuries too, experts agreed.

“You do not want to use percussive therapy (a massage gun) over an artery,” Krzyzanowicz told Health in a statement. “In the neck we get worried with blood flow to the brain, and in theory, percussion could temporarily starve the brain from blood flow, causing mini-stroke or stroke-like symptoms.”

The front of the neck—on the sides of the throat—is where the carotid arteries and jugular veins lie, Neira explained. These areas are particularly “sensitive,” he said, and applying pressure there can be dangerous. For example, compressing the jugular vein can make it harder for blood to get into the heart, he said.

And there are other ways that massage guns can cause potential issues or injury to these important veins.

As people get older, they can develop plaque in these arteries, which is linked to high blood pressure and cholesterol, Neira said.

“Jostling these carotid arteries around can lead to dislodging a plaque, and that can go to your brain and cause strokes,” he explained.

A similar thing can happen with blood clots—long-term pressure on the carotid artery can lead to a suspension of blood flow or the formation of blood clots, Neira said. And if someone has already developed some clotting in their carotid artery, moving it around with something like a massage gun could send those clots into the brain, he said.

In April, researchers in China published a case report of a patient who experienced stroke-like symptoms after a handheld massager caused blood clots in her carotid arteries.3

Another rare but potentially serious injury could come in the form of a vertebral artery dissection, or tear. A 2022 case report found a link between use of a handheld massage gun and this type of injury, which led to stroke-like symptoms—headache, neck pain, and dizziness—for a patient.4

It’s unlikely that a massage gun alone could cause enough force or trauma to actually tear the vertebral artery, Neira added. However, if the person using it had some spinal issue or was moving their neck around in a specific manner, it’s not outside the realm of possibility, he said.

But it’s important to mention these events are extremely rare, Krzyzanowicz added.

“There are no statistics I’ve seen in the literature on this,” he said. “However, I would presume that injuries caused by improper use of massage guns are rare and relatively low.”

In this way, stroke-like injuries from massage guns can be likened to other sorts of rare accidents—via different mechanisms, cases have been reported of people experiencing a break in blood flow to their brains during weight lifting or even while getting their hair done (termed “beauty parlor stroke”), Krzyzanowicz explained.5 Again, these are extremely rare.

Relieving Pain Safely

If people have been using a massage gun on the non-muscle parts of their neck, they should stop doing so. Seeking medical attention is a good idea if they notice any unusual symptoms or if their neck pain continues, experts said.

And to use massage guns safely, people should avoid the following areas on their body, Krzyzanowicz said:

  • Neck
  • Eyes
  • Directly over the heart
  • Inner groin
  • Directly behind the knee
  • Reproductive organs
  • Areas with decreased sensitivity, such as something that’s numb from surgery

Even when used correctly, relying on the devices for severe or chronic neck pain may not always be a good idea.

“Treating yourself for severe neck pain without consulting a medical professional can be a little bit complicated,” said Neira.

If neck pain isn’t caused by soreness and is instead attributable to something more serious, such as a disc herniation, massage guns won’t help, he added.

Whether it’s heating pads, different kinds of massagers, or something else entirely, people can experiment to find what works best for them, Neira said. However, if the pain persists or people are reaching for these home remedies very frequently, that’s a sign that they may need medical help, he explained.

“Casual use of a neck massager is probably not super dangerous,” he said. “But using a neck massager to treat a severe neck problem is missing the whole crux of what’s going on.”

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