Can I use muscle massage during pregnancy?

Typically used for aches and pains such as arthritis, back pain, and muscle strain, women often look for muscle rubs and balms for temporary muscle relief during pregnancy. For many women, pregnancy is riddled with musculoskeletal ailments like sciatica, ligament pain, and carpal tunnel, Kiarra King, MD, a Chicago gynecologist, told POPSUGAR. Sore joints and ligaments can occur as a result of hormonal changes, while some muscle discomfort can occur from the growth of the abdomen. Up front, experts explain whether it is safe to use muscle massage during pregnancy and what steps you can take to ensure proper care.

Can I use muscle massage during pregnancy?

In short, over-the-counter muscle massages like IcyHot or Tiger Balm can be used during pregnancy due to their low concentration of ingredients, according to Christine Sterling, MD, FACOG, a board certified gynecologist in California. Due to the large number of different formulations available, Dr. Sterling, speaking with your doctor before using topical medications, especially if you are pregnant.

Similarly, Dr. King, when your doctor talks about drug safety in relation to pregnancy, they are often trying to determine how a particular drug will affect a developing fetus. While some medications are perfectly safe when you are not pregnant, they can be very harmful to a baby in utero. “Muscle rubs are local, so there is minimal systemic absorption so there is minimal concern about harm to the fetus,” she said.

Are the ingredients in Muscle Rub toxic?

Most of the rubs and balms on the market are made up of menthol, camphor, and methyl salicylate, which act as counter-irritants, meaning that they cause the feeling of cold on the skin to relieve pain. Since muscle massages are used on the skin, Dr. King that there should be no cause for concern. “Again, this type of drug is applied topically and there is minimal systemic absorption so the risk from a maternal and fetal toxicity point of view is low,” she repeated. Dr. Sterling noted that women can often experience increased skin sensitivity during pregnancy. Even if the risk of toxicity is very low, a dermatological reaction can occur. To see if the skin can tolerate a rub or a balm, try a test point application. If there are no red, inflamed, itchy areas, feel free to apply the scrub to a larger area.

How can I safely apply rubs?

Before using any new over-the-counter medications or creams, always check with your doctor, advised Dr. King. However, she recommends avoiding the use of muscle creams on the vulva and vagina as they can cause severe irritation. Also, to minimize side effects, wear gloves, wash your hands thoroughly after applying, and avoid touching your face – especially your eyes.

If you’d rather avoid muscle massages, Dr. Sterling stretching, physical therapy, magnesium supplementation, pregnancy belts, and compression stockings for the treatment of muscle pain. “Never assumed that your pregnancy pains were ‘just muscle ache’,” she told POPSUGAR. “Always let your gynecologist know when you are in pain and work with them to come up with a treatment plan that works for you.”