Image by Microgen, Adobe Stock
Here’s what to expect in the age of COVID.
Last week I joined five other massage therapists on a Zoom call about the new normal in the massage therapy world. We’ve been restricted since mid-March, meanwhile gathering best practices for the summer reopening. We discussed how our practice will change, and what will remain the same.
Here in Texas, on May 18 Governor Abbot issued an order under phase two of his reopen plan that allows licensed massage therapists and schools to reopen. This affected three of us Texans on the call. Two others from the UK are planning their reopen date for sometime in July. An Alaskan therapist joined the call from her car. She was on her way to work at a chiropractor’s office where she’s booked through June.
I know I could use one! But how safe do you feel about lying on your massage therapist’s table these days? Chances are she’s as wary of contracting or spreading the virus as you are. Both the therapist and the client must take precautions to protect themselves.
Since the responsibility for safety falls to your LMT (licensed massage therapist), you may be in for some surprises due to the new minimum standard health protocols in place within our profession. Many therapists are preparing now, and intend to go beyond the minimum standards to make people comfortable during these unprecedented times.
Sadly, I have heard of one or two massage therapists who will no longer practice their trade. They state varying reasons. Some are just not interested in changing their practice to accommodate the new guidelines. After practicing a certain way for many years, it can be difficult to switch gears. One stated that changing everything from their environment to their intake forms, to the way they sanitize between clients; just doesn’t warrant the upheaval to their practice. So some are throwing in the towel, ‘scuze the pun.
Others, like those of us on the conference call, are treading gently as we return to our practice and implementing the necessary changes. We want to continue serving clients but we’re taking it slow, accepting far fewer appointments per day until we get the hang of things. We’ll get there in time, but we have to feel good about our efficacy at preventing the spread of COVID-19 within the walls of our massage rooms.
If you’re an avid receiver of massage, whether for sports therapy, relaxation, or other health reasons, then you’re probably considering making an appointment with your therapist soon. Wondering if you’ll suffer any unfortunate changes during the best hour of your month?
First, the good news. Most of these new “minimum standards” are par for the course for massage therapists. We have ALWAYS washed up to our elbows for 20 seconds before and after placing our hands on a client’s skin. So nothing’s changed there. But there are some other things we’re talking about changing as we head back to work.
As a client and receiver of massage, here’s what you need to know…
Our tools of the trade will need some tweaking. First, the massage table itself. Minimum recommendations include strict disinfecting of the table between massages. In my experience and training, I’ve always cleaned my table between massages with a gentle disinfectant. However, I reserved the recommended solution of bleach and water for weekly cleaning, or for times when fluids may have touched the table. (You might be surprised or grossed out to hear that blood, urine, etc. just happens sometimes. And we clean it up with gloves, etc.)
Now though, we will be sanitizing the table with bleach between each and every massage. I’ve seen some massage supply websites offering a plastic cover for massage tables to extend the life of the table’s original material. I’ll be buying one of those heavy-duty covers that stand up to stronger chemicals. And as much as I dislike bleach, I’ll be stocking up.
Regarding the table coverings, guidelines recommend replacing ALL layers on a massage table between clients. The result of this rule is that some therapists are removing their fleece for now. You might not even know it exists, but a fleece is that warm, fluffy layer between the table and the bottom fitted sheet on the table. In the past, the fleece was covered by a first, fitted layer, upon which all the other layers follow. Since the fleece and the electric warmers would now need to be washed between clients, most independent massage therapists are foregoing those layers. They simply don’t have the supply, they’re pricey to replace, and frequent washings ruin them in short order.
So if you really love that cushy feel, you may be disappointed to learn that your therapist is storing that fleece for now. Rest assured, the usual table coverings are always replaced and washed between clients. You may, however, be asked to provide a blanket from home for added warmth. You may want to ask to make sure.
Massage therapists are taking great care to provide a safe environment. For this reason, home visits are discouraged until a safer time. It’s just too difficult to control the environment in a client’s home. Plan on coming to a spa, wellness center, or wherever your therapist normally practices.
Now for the massage room itself, expect to see all the comforting, soft “extras” removed. Pillows, cushioned chairs, artwork, and any unnecessary tchotchkes will probably be gone. That cozy room may appear a bit clinical for your taste, but as soon as you close your eyes, under the skilled hands of your massage therapist, that won’t matter. Massage therapists are tasked with wiping down all switch plates, arms of chairs, clipboards, and anything a client might touch while in the room, so less stuff means less work.
Most LMTs I’ve spoken to will be extending the time between clients to ensure proper cleaning is done without any rush. As a result, many therapists plan to schedule fewer massages per day. Shorter hours could mean difficulty getting the time slot you prefer, so book in advance.
So what happens when you arrive for your appointment? You’ll probably be asked to wait in your car or somewhere you can safely distance yourself from others. You will call or text your therapist when you arrive and allow her to open the door for you. You will be escorted directly to the massage room. No stopping and lingering in a waiting room. If you must sit in a waiting room, expect to find no magazines and brochures to peruse while you wait.
You may be asked to bring a personal pen to sign waivers and to fill in forms. Contactless payment will be encouraged.
Even if you’ve been a regular client for years, expect to be screened more thoroughly before your massage. Intake forms will be expanded to ask pertinent questions about your current state of health. Your therapist may ask you these questions before each visit now — whether you have a sore throat, a cough, or any common symptoms of COVID; and whether you have been around someone known to be infected with Coronavirus, or having a known case of COVID.
Your temperature will be taken before each massage, probably with a contactless thermometer. If it is higher than normal, expect to reschedule, and please don’t have a fit. It’s for the health of your therapist as well as your own and others’.
Who will be granted access to massage therapy in a post-COVID world? Experienced massage therapists may only wish to serve their long-term clientele at first. I know some colleagues who are not taking any new clients at this time. Furthermore, they will likely not serve clients who are over 70 years of age, nor those who have underlying health conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
Unfortunately, the people who probably need massage the most will find it difficult to obtain one unless they are personally under the guidance of a doctor and have obtained a written recommendation for massage.
A side note: It will be interesting to see where the medical community will stand on massage therapy going forward. Massage has previously been a protocol which falls under an “elective” treatment. While some medical professionals consider massage unconventional, many patients pursue it on their own to supplement more traditional measures. Because LMTs may be more hesitant to treat a client with underlying conditions, patients may begin to request referrals from their doctors. As a result, the medical community may begin seeking closer communication with LMTs who serve their patients.
It’s common in our profession to see clients who are battling common, but serious diseases. They often pay for massage therapy out of pocket because they enjoy the myriad physical and psychological benefits. They know massage therapy helps them heal from specific injuries and/or cope with chronic conditions. Perhaps now more doctors will see the value in treatments that fall outside allopathy, and more insurance programs expand to cover such therapeutic practices. Could this be a silver lining to this pandemic? We’ll see.
OK, the topic you‘ve been waiting for. The dreaded, controversial face mask.
Never fear, your massage therapist will certainly wear one throughout the entire massage. If you’re curious, yes, it’s uncomfortable to work out while wearing a face mask. Giving a massage is hard work. Massage therapy is considered one of the toughest forms of manual labor, and performing an effective massage will be even more challenging with one’s nose and mouth covered up. A lot of us are getting into practice now by taking walks and exercising while wearing face masks. We need to grow acclimated to the breathwork and heat management we’ll be tasked with.
Will YOU be required to wear a mask? That is the most important question, I know. Anyone who has ever had a massage knows that lying prone (that is, on your stomach, with your face nestled into a cushioned face cradle) can mess with your sinuses and comfort level. In my experience, it is the number one (if not the only) negative byproduct of getting a massage.
Wearing a face mask while lying face-down could be nearly unbearable. Chances are good that you will NOT be required to wear a facemask while lying face down. At least I will not be asking my clients to wear one unless they prefer it. There may be some added layer of material hanging below your nose and mouth to catch possible droplets (I’ve heard some therapists are trying to come up with a solution that doesn’t stifle the breath of their client), but it will be up to your massage therapist or her place of practice.
Once you turn over onto your back, that’s another story. Your therapist will likely require you to wear a face mask while lying supine (face-up). There are just too many instances where work on muscle tissue brings you and the massage therapist too close for comfort. When you schedule your first massage after the quarantine, please bring your most comfortable face mask or expect to be provided one for at least part of the massage.
Gloves or no gloves? While some massage therapists may opt to wear gloves, almost everyone I’ve spoken with can’t wrap their heads around that one. Touch is touch. It’s why everyone loves a massage, outside of the obvious value of soft tissue manipulation inherent in the appropriate pressure of the touch. Skin-to-skin contact feels lovely and naturally transfers energy from one person to another. Some massage techniques indeed require direct contact with the skin and the muscles beneath it.
Personally, I won’t be wearing gloves. That’s a deal-breaker for me. I’d simply rather not do a massage than perform one with a synthetic barrier between my hands and the client.
As everyone keeps saying, we’re all in this together. I believe everybody — and every body — would benefit from some therapeutic touch these days, especially if you’ve been holed up alone without another companion during these past few months.
The occasional hug does wonders for your health and well being. Lacking that, a massage is a powerful, enjoyable, immunity-boosting event. Schedule one today. Your massage therapist needs the practice as much as you do, and your muscles could probably use some work.