Is Thyroid Gland Massage Safe?
There’s a growing number of people who are doing anything that they can to try and improve their thyroid function.
On some level, I don’t blame them one bit.
But whenever you do any new treatment or therapy you have to make sure that you aren’t causing more harm than good.
Thyroid gland massage is one of those things that should probably be avoided for this very reason.
What drives people to try and massage their thyroid gland?
Well, the logic goes something like this:
Many thyroid patients are out there suffering from the symptoms of low thyroid function even when taking their thyroid medication religiously.
These same people are told that their thyroid is normal and that their symptoms must be related to something else.
This is around the time that they are told their symptoms are caused by age or even depression.
These people are fed up with the answer and seek out other treatments.
Thyroid gland massage seems attractive because it provides them with something that they can do.
And when you look at thyroid gland anatomy and physiology (1), there’s something to the idea.
Your thyroid gland not only creates thyroid hormone but also stores some of it as well.
Because the thyroid gland is somewhat of a spongy tissue, it’s possible to force out the release of that stored thyroid hormone through physical pressure or massage.
Thyroid gland massage, therefore, allows some people to ‘express’ thyroid hormone from their own gland much in the same way that a nursing woman may express breast milk from her breast tissue.
Well, similar, anyway.
But just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.
This is the entire point of this article.
Today you will learn:
- More about the idea of thyroid gland massage and why it’s become popular lately
- The difference between thyroid gland massage and massage therapy for the thyroid gland
- Reasons you should avoid massaging your thyroid gland and why it may be harmful
- What to do instead of thyroid gland massage to naturally help improve your thyroid
Let’s jump in…
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Thyroid Gland Massage vs Massage Therapy for the Thyroid Gland
First off, we need to have a discussion about the difference between massage therapy for the thyroid and massage of the thyroid gland.
Massage therapy refers to the practice of massage by a certified medical professional who uses their hands to manipulate the soft tissues (2) of your body.
The soft tissues include things like muscles, subcutaneous fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons, and fascia.
Massage therapy is a great therapy for the entire body but not something that is generally used to treat the thyroid by itself.
Generally speaking, sensitive organs and tissues are avoided during massages to prevent damage to the tissue.
Massage therapy of the head and neck (while avoiding the thyroid gland itself) may have positive benefits for thyroid function and this is something we will talk about later.
Massage therapy of the body (or even the head and neck) should be differentiated from thyroid gland massage.
Thyroid gland massage refers to the deliberate massaging of the thyroid gland itself.
Because of where the thyroid sits in your body, it’s one of the few hormone-producing organs that you can actually manipulate with your hands.
And for good reason, you really don’t want to be smashing on these tissues because that often leads to serious problems and the release of excess hormones.
By contrast, your thyroid gland sits at the case of your neck and is actually very close to the surface of the skin.
This is why it can be manipulated through gentle massage as long as you can locate it.
Some thyroid patients swear by thyroid gland massage and state that it can help improve thyroid hormone release and, therefore, improve hypothyroid symptoms.
While I have no doubt that it can help some patients, my goal here is to talk about whether or not the risks outweigh the potential cons of directly massaging the thyroid gland.
2 Big Reasons to Avoid Massaging Your Thyroid Gland
Even though it’s theoretically possible to massage the thyroid gland itself and push out extra T4 and T3 thyroid hormones, it’s probably not a good idea for the following 2 reasons.
#1. You may cause local inflammation and make your thyroid worse
The #1 reason I don’t recommend thyroid gland massage has to do with the thyroid gland, your immune system, and the number 1 cause of thyroid disease in the United States.
To help you understand how this all plays together I want you to think about a mosquito bite.
Pretty much every single person reading this has had a mosquito bite at some point in their life so the analogy should hit close to home.
Before I do, though, let’s talk about the #1 cause of hypothyroidism in the United States which is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism and Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and they are both autoimmune diseases.
The hallmark of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (meaning the #1 most important aspect of the disease) is immune cell infiltration (7) of the thyroid gland.
If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s then you can safely make the assumption that your thyroid gland is filled with white blood cells.
And it is these white blood cells that recruit inflammatory markers and cause damage to your thyroid gland.
If you are someone reading this article and you have hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) then there’s about a 70 to 90% chance (depending on which study you look at) that this process is happening to your thyroid right now unless you are in remission.
Ok, with this in mind let’s go back to the analogy of the mosquito bite.
What happens when you have a mosquito bite?
And what do you do when it itches? You tich it! Maybe you try not to but we’ve all itched a mosquito bite at some point.
When you itch it you may get some temporary relief from the itching but eventually, the itching comes back worse than it was before.
In addition, you also get some redness and swelling in the area.
Which is the key.
Where does this extra swelling and redness come from? It comes from your immune system.
When you itch a mosquito bite you are causing physical trauma to the area which results in more recruitment of white blood cells (8) and more local inflammation.
This inflammation then makes the redness, swelling, and itching sensation worse.
We can apply this same logic to the thyroid gland.
Now let’s imagine you are someone with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and low thyroid function.
You think to yourself you want to try and feel better so you start pressing on your thyroid gland in an attempt to massage it.
Guess what can happen?
Because you start pressing on your thyroid gland, you cause some minor trauma which recruits more white blood cells and now you have a situation where your thyroid gland has more inflammation than it did before.
This is the EXACT opposite thing you want to happen!
In fact, the goal when treating Hashimoto’s is to try and reduce how many white blood cells are in your thyroid gland.
Massaging your thyroid gland has now made your situation worse (not better).
This scenario is actually quite likely if you are someone with Hashimoto’s or someone who has white blood cell infiltrates in their thyroid gland.
You may be thinking, “What if I don’t have Hashimoto’s or white blood cells in my thyroid gland? Is it safe for me?”.
Probably not, for the reasons we are going to talk about in a minute but the people who do feel better with thyroid gland massage are likely those who don’t have issues with autoimmune thyroid disease.
Even in that scenario, though, it still is probably not a good idea…
#2. There’s no way to know how much thyroid hormone you may release with massage
Reason #2 has to do with precision.
Whenever you are going to use some sort of therapy or treatment you better have some idea as to what you can expect.
In addition to expectations, you also need to make sure that your therapy provides measurable results that can be duplicated.
If your therapy only works some of the time and can’t be replicated or reproduced by other people, then it’s not a very good treatment.
This is sort of where thyroid gland massage falls even when it does work.
Problem #2 is that we really don’t have any way to quantify how effective the treatment is or how much thyroid hormone is being excreted during a massage.
In other words, how much thyroid hormone is being released per minute of massage?
We don’t know, and it probably varies from person to person.
As a result, thyroid gland massage may result in massive amounts of thyroid hormone release for some people and virtually none for others.
Thyroid gland massage may, therefore, result in complications in dosing your thyroid medication and make interpreting your thyroid lab tests even more difficult.
And in a world where thyroid patients already have issues with being underdosed on their thyroid medication and have issues in getting all of the right thyroid lab tests ordered, it doesn’t make sense to make this process even more complicated and complex than it already is.
Massaging your thyroid gland is really a very crude or barbaric way to attempt to increase thyroid hormone when there are other, safer, and more effective natural therapies available.
For this reason, and for the reason mentioned above, I can’t really recommend thyroid gland massage as a treatment for hypothyroid patients.
What to do Instead of Thyroid Gland Massage
Does that mean that you are out of luck if you want to try something like this?
Not by a long shot.
In fact, there are still many other treatments that are similar to massage therapy that you can take advantage of which may allow you to indirectly improve thyroid function.
Even though I’m not a fan of thyroid gland massage, I still think the people who are interested in this type of treatment are on the right track.
The idea that you can physically manipulate the tissues in the head and neck area to improve the thyroid is an interesting idea that isn’t thought of or used by most patients or doctors.
This means that it’s a unique opportunity for many of you reading this.
If you love the idea of physical manipulation and its effects on your thyroid gland, skip the direct thyroid gland massage and opt for these therapies instead:
#1. Massage therapy of the body but especially the head and neck
Massage therapy is a great therapy and treatment for those with hypothyroidism for several reasons.
Many patients with low thyroid function end up with chronic muscle pain (and the symptoms of fibromyalgia) in addition to joint pain.
Massage therapy can be used to balance the musculature and reduce pain points in thyroid patients.
In addition, hypothyroid patients also suffer from swelling or edema.
Physical manipulation of areas that are swollen may help your body to reabsorb fluids and bring those fluids back into your circulatory system for removal.
A knowledgeable massage therapist can also focus on the muscles in the head and neck area while avoiding the thyroid gland itself.
Doing so can help increase blood flow to the head and neck, improve venous drainage, and improve lymphatic drainage.
The result? More blood flow with nutrients that your thyroid needs and better circulation of thyroid hormones to the rest of your body.
#2. Neck exercises to balance musculature in the neck area
The neck thing you can do is exercise specific muscles in the neck.
A lot of people, especially thyroid patients, suffer from low back pain.
And one of the primary ways to treat low back pain is with core exercises! Bringing balance to the anterior and posterior postural muscles can eliminate back pain (9) in many people.
We can apply this same logic to the neck.
Because a lot of people look down at their phones (10) or computers all day, they have a relative imbalance in the strength of their neck muscles.
The posterior (back) muscles tend to be weak and the anterior (front) muscles tend to be tight and overworked.
Regular neck exercises can bring balance back to these muscles and will improve the overall anatomy and physiology of the neck.
You probably won’t see huge gains in thyroid function by doing this but it’s always a good idea to bring your body back into balance and homeostasis for optimal function.
#3. Chiropractic work or osteopathic therapy
You can also get physical work done by a trained osteopathic physician (11) or chiropractor.
These medical professionals can help bring balance to bones, tendons, and ligaments that may not be resolved with soft tissue massage.
Most people associate this type of work with the snap, crackle, pop of head twists and such but these professionals can also focus on soft tissue work like muscle energy (12), myofascial release, and craniosacral therapy.
If your issues are not resolved with massage therapy then looking at one of these options may be ideal.
#4. Lymphatic work
Next, you can do work designed to improve lymphatic flow in your head and neck.
Your lymphatic system is the system that your body uses to remove cellular waste, mobilize extra fluids, and mobilize immune cells.
This system is incredibly important and yet gets very little attention!
Most of the lymphatics from your head and neck drain into the left side of your neck (13) and down into your thoracic duct.
Because there is very little pressure on your lymphatic system, the movement of your lymphatic system relies heavily on the physical motion of the body and on the movement of your muscles.
You can enhance lymphatic drainage by doing neck exercises, getting massage therapy, or doing pretty much any other movement!
#5. Trigger point injection therapy
Lastly, you can consider getting trigger point injections.
Trigger points are areas of your muscle that are unable to fully relax.
The result is constant pain in the affected area which may also inflame nearby nerves and other tissues.
Many thyroid patients suffer from trigger points all over the body but especially in the head and neck.
This has to do with the fact that thyroid hormone is necessary for the production of ATP (the energy currency of your cell) and because energy is required for your muscles to relax (14).
If you don’t have the required energy for muscle relaxation then you will be prone to developing trigger points throughout your body.
One potential treatment for trigger points is the use of injections that put lidocaine or even sugar water to help treat these trigger points.
Doing so may improve the function of your head and neck and your muscles which may indirectly support your thyroid and other surrounding tissues.
Even though thyroid gland massage has the potential to help some patients with low thyroid function, it’s probably not a great idea to try it for most people.
Thyroid gland massage comes with a few big downsides and these downsides outweigh the small potential benefits that may come with massaging your thyroid gland.
Instead of using thyroid gland massage, opt instead for other treatments which focus on improving the function and structure of the head and neck area.
These treatments will bring balance to the musculature of the neck, improve blood flow in and out, improve lymphatic drainage, and potentially impact your thyroid for the better.
Now I want to hear from you:
Have you tried thyroid gland massage before?
If so, did you find it helpful?
Have you heard about thyroid gland massage or is this the first time?
Have you tried any of the other therapies listed here? Are you planning on trying any?
Leave your questions or comments below!