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Pregnancy and Ankle Massage: Is it safe?

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Pregnancy and Ankle Massage: Is it safe?

Why did I want to write this post about pregnacy and ankle massage?

After my two pregnancies and seeing a post on a prominent Facebook parenting group for the Upper East Side of New York, I started thinking about writing this blog.  In the post, the OP had asked the group, “Is it safe to get a pedicure or foot massage while pregnant?”  Apparently, some people had heard it could cause miscarriage.  I am not going to post the link to that discussion, as it is not fair to “out” people for their private views and conversations on another platform, one meant solely for the ears of parents.  I’m sure the post is searchable, and you might find another in any parenting group by searching “massage and pregnancy” or “ankle massage and pregnancy”.  Given that massage therapy is my vocation, I had watched the post grow, in part because it is actually fairly rare that massage gets posted about at all.  What I saw unfold was that a great many people are wildly misinformed about massage, but are perfectly willing to give advice on what is medically appropriate for pregnant women based entirely on hearsay.

Where does the myth of ankle massage causing miscarriage come from?


The advice fell into three categories.  The first was the “I heard massage on the ankles or specialized pressure points can cause a miscarriage”, some posters going so far as claiming it as fact.  So let’s look at that specific misinformation.  It is NOT a fact.  The whole ankle massage myth is based on Eastern medicine pressure points.  Eastern medicine is traditional medicine, which means it is based on philosophy, not on clinical trials and research (although clinical trials and research DO exist for eastern medicine NOW covering a great many areas).  I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with adding Eastern Medicine to your care.  I am not here to bash Eastern medicine.  Women should be wary of adding fear to the list of things their complementary health care brings to the table as part of that.

 In the Eastern pressure point/acupuncture philosophy, certain points on the body correlate to other body parts and functions. Stimulating them, and meridians, might be part of a holistic care plan, and many people find value in that kind of treatment as a supplementary or management tool. I want to be clear though, that if I am in medical distress, I do not seek out an acupuncturist—I want to see a medical doctor.


In writing this, I tried using Google Scholar to find any existing research on ankle massage and miscarriage, or pressure points and miscarriage, but I could not find anything.  In other words, I found no research to support the theory that ankle massage or pressure points can cause miscarriage in any way.  What I DID find is many articles written by reflexologists and on pregnancy sites such as this on Hellomotherhood:  which have published articles stating that it is dangerous simply because the philosophy says so, without any research to substantiate that claim.  From a medical point of view, there is no real correlation between miscarriage and ankle stimulation. In fact, as a trained massage therapist, if I could stimulate your baby to come by pressing a few spots on your leg, I would probably be able to earn a great deal more than I do now. At week 40 you are rather desperate to get the baby out!

Is the idea of ankle pressure points supported by research? And what should we focus on?

Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

What should women be paying attention to in terms of risky activities?  Their focus instead should  be things like Am I a high-risk pregnancy?”  “Have I been cleared by my doctor for this activity?”  “Will there be any substances used in my treatment that may not be appropriate for a pregnant person?”  (see essential oils)  “Is my therapist experienced in prenatal massage?”  These are far more valid concerns.  Traditional medicine can be an important part of care especially in cultures where it connects people, but we need to reject the parts of traditional medicine that cause fear or people and spread misinformation.  If we cannot support an idea with research, it is only an opinion.  But we don’t recommend you simply take our word for it.  Look for articles that are linked with supporting evidence like this one about prenatal massage and ankle massage from “Massage and Fitness Magazine.”

What about first-hand experiences of people who went into labor after a foot massage?

The second kind of so-called proof of danger that was given as a reason to avoid ankle massage during pregnancy came from “experiential proof”.  People often are not objective by nature.  We are wired to find meaning in things.  So a number of women stepped up to say things like “I had a massage and asked to have my ankles massaged at the special points, and then I went into labor.”   While it might not be unreasonable to assume that if you did “A” and then “B” happened, they are connected. “B” might just as easily have happened WITHOUT “A”.  This is an issue of correlation versus causation.  We would have to look at a substantial amount of data to be able to prove that “A” actually caused “B”.  I would cite one of my favorite educational sources on science, The Kahn Institute.  Here is the example they put forth:  

Correlation vs Causation: see the example

“Liam collected data on the sales of ice cream cones and air conditioners in his hometown.  He found that when ice cream sales were low, air conditioner sales tended to be low and that when ice cream sales were high, air conditioner sales tended to be high.

—Liam can conclude that sales of ice cream cones and air conditioners are positively correlated.

—Liam can not conclude that selling more ice cream cones causes more air conditioners to be sold.  It is likely that the increase in the sales of both ice cream cones and air conditioners are caused by a third factor, an increase in temperature.”

The Kahn Institute


The Kahn Institute has an entire post on this subject if you want to learn more about or check out your reasoning skills.  Correlation and causation can be tricky for people because we want things to have meaning and time is linear.  We attribute meaning to things that happen just before or after an event.  A perfect example would be athletes who wear their “lucky” socks or people who tell you to wash your car if you want it to rain.  It is easy to be tricked by this kind of reasoning, so listen closely to what people tell you for evidence of their claims.

What about hearing a story about early labor and ankle massage?

The next kind of comment that I saw was a combination of correlation and causation mistakes plus hearsay.  It is the weakest of all the arguments.  These posts said in effect “I had a friend once who went into early labor after a massage”.  Indeed that could be horrible and scary.  At the heart of it, though, we do not know if those two things were actually interrelated.  AND we don’t know the whole story. What we do know is, if you have a massage late in pregnancy, at some point you will go into labor. The sum is it is hearsay and could have been filtered in any number of ways by that claimant.   

Miscarriages are common and we need to talk about them

The truth is, miscarriages and pregnancy loss are very common, and often not preventable.  There is actually a day designated to encourage advocacy around not keeping these struggles silent.  October 15th is National Pregnancy Loss and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.*  The fact that people often do not talk about their miscarriages can conceal just how common losing a pregnancy actually is.  This can contribute to rumors or concerns that you must have done something to lose the pregnancy.  It contributes to guilt, poor mental health, and poor understanding of the facts. There is no room for blame in health care, especially in issues like a loss.  A woman could carry that “what if” her entire life when it is not reality.

What is the truth about having a foot or ankle massage while pregnant?


Getting an ankle massage or foot massage during pregnancy is a perfectly acceptable way to handle stress and pamper yourself. Rest assured that there is no medical reason not to have one unless you have been told by your doctor for OTHER reasons that you should not.  I enjoyed them successfully during my pregnancies, although markedly less with the second one because I spent so much time chasing my toddler  🙂 Taking care of your health means taking care of yourself.

If you would like to book a prenatal massage with one of our massage therapists check out our booking page or go to our prenatal massage in NYC page to find out more information!

Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage

1 W 34th St
#204,
New York, NY 10001
Phone: 212-600-4808
Email: info@bodymechanicsnyc.com

Prenatal Massage in NYC- What New York Mom’s need to know

Getting a Prenatal Massage in NYC? Here are the top five things pregnant working women in New York need to know!

New York City is a fantastic place, full of energy. There is a reason we call it the city that never sleeps! But that same energy may not be so amazing for New York’s expectant moms-to-be.  The average American workweek is a bit over 40 hours a week however a report from The New York office City Controller in 2015  showed that the average workweek in NYC was 42.40 hours, which is right on par with most other major metropolitan areas.

But the report also showed that New Yorkers are commuting longer than most workers to get to where they are going. With the work time and commute time combined New York City full-time workers spend over 49 hours per week either working or commuting, giving them the longest combined workweek in the nation”. This means, “The difference in the length of the workweek for people living in New York City and some of the nation’s mid-sized cities is substantial. For example, the average combined work and commuting week in New York City is about 4 hours and 15 minutes longer than in Milwaukee.  The result: for each workday New Yorkers have some 50 minutes less to be with family or engage in other pursuits than their counterparts in Milwaukee.”

So it’s no wonder services like prenatal massage, where working moms-to-be can rest, relax, and manage pain, are popular in the Big Apple. Women seeking prenatal massage are often dealing with balancing an active life, work, and possible complications from their pregnancy. For many women, it might be the first time they have sought out massage and so they are full of questions. To answer those questions, here are the top 5 things pregnant New Yorkers need to know about prenatal massage in New York.

1.   Can prenatal massage aid in stress and pain management? Prenatal massage offers a lot of benefits to a new or experienced mom-on-the-go. While there are some pretty wild claims out there about what massage can and cannot do for pregnant women, it’s pretty safe to say that having a place to go once a week where they are encouraged to take time to rest, have their achy body rubbed and gently stretch things they cannot stretch themselves, is probably a great plan for stress management. And since higher stress can often amplify pain responses, you might call it a drug free pain management plan too.  It means you get to say “I have somewhere to go if it all gets to be too much”.

2.  Should I check with my doctor? Does insurance cover prenatal massage? For most women massage at ANY time during pregnancy is a-OK but there are a few rarely-occurring conditions that do sideline you from a little massage love, so you should definitely check if that applies to you. Since you are going in regularly for checkups in preparation for your new bundle you might as well ask. Checking with your doctor has some added benefits, too. Some folks have HSA and FSA that covers massage, so if yours does, you can have the doctor write a note and your massage might be covered by insurance. It will depend completely on your personal insurance situation, but it never hurts to ask.

3.  I heard I couldn’t get a massage while I was pregnant, is this true? While we are talking about medical things we might as well mention that there are some pretty interesting myths out there on prenatal massage. The first myth is that you cannot have a massage in your first trimester of pregnancy, but as we mentioned above, so long as massage is cleared with your doctor and you do not have any medical conditions that prohibit it, that’s not true. There are also some funny old wives tales still kicking around that say women should not have their ankles and feet massaged during pregnancy because it can induce birth. Again: not true. If you love a good foot rub after your long train ride go for it. Another big one is that you cannot get a prenatal massage from a male therapist. So long as you’re comfortable with it, there is no reason a male therapist cannot give you the best prenatal massage of your life. If he is available, I would say go for it!

pregnancy table for massage in nyc
Prenatal Massage Table

4. What if I am uncomfortable, need to move, or only want my back massaged? Whatever kind of massage you book, know that this is your time. The therapist’s job is to keep you safe and make decisions that keep you out of harm’s way, but the actual massage, and how it is done, is up to you. Deep pressure, light pressure, only wanting your feet rubbed, or only your legs, it does not matter. It is your time, feel free to speak up about your comfort and desires. The therapist may have a fancy table that lets you lie face down, but if you don’t want to, or are not comfortable in anyway, do not do it! The majority of prenatal massages in NYC are done in a side-lying position with pillows. If you’re not comfortable, speak up and the therapist will make adjustments-this includes leaving to go to the ladies room. Go ahead, we are used to it!

5. How do I know if the therapist is qualified to do prenatal massage?  New York has one of the highest educational standards for massage therapy in all of the United States. The New York State educational requirements are 1000 hours so you are in good hands.  To see if you are visiting a licensed practitioner who has an education approved by the state you can look up their license here; NY State Massage License look up.  Finding a licensed practitioner is the best thing you can do to make sure you have a safe, enjoyable experience. Once you find someone, continue to ask a few questions. Although New York State has a much higher educational standard than other states, that does not mean your therapist will be experienced in prenatal massage. If the therapist is a new graduate the therapist could be working on a permit (before they get the results of their test) and most schools give only a cursory introduction to prenatal massage. Look for someone who specializes in prenatal services. Just because a spa lists it, does not mean that the therapist is experienced. Ask how long the therapist has been performing prenatal massage and what special training they took. Or you can go to one of New York’s many specialized treatment centers geared to prenatal massage.

To book an appointment with our prenatal specialist, don’t be shy! You can find more information about our prenatal massage here.  Or check our prenatal tips page or postnatal tips page. Give us a visit at:

Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage
315 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10017
(212)-600-4808

Postural changes during pregnancy and prenatal massage from Body Mechanics Massage New York

A descriptive video on the possible postural changes that occur during pregnancy and the use of prenatal massage. Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage New York are experts in prenatal massage care. This video covers the basic anatomy of a pregnant woman’s spine and pelvis, why they occur, and the possible effects of the changes.