Back to Practice for Massage Professionals

March 11, 2021: COVID-19 Hygiene Updates—A List of Suggestions

This is an excerpt from Ruth Werner's blog at

We have recently marked the sad first anniversary of the appearance of COVID-19 in this country, and we have surpassed a half-million deaths. We have been frightened and angry, sad and frustrated . . . and now maybe with the advent of three safe and effective vaccines and falling infection rates, we can be a little hopeful. In addition, we have learned a lot about this virus and how it moves from one person to another, and some of that has been unexpected.

Given this evolving information, some massage therapists have quite reasonably begun to question the heightened level of hygienic precautions we undertook when it became feasible to open our practices again.

I was honored to be part of the task force that worked with the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards to create some practice guidelines that focused on hygienic precautions in hospitals, private practice, spas, and school settings. We used the best information available at the time (May 2020) to provide the safest recommendations we could offer. I hope that project helped massage therapists all over the country make good decisions that involved extensive hygiene audits and upgrades in their workplaces to keep themselves and their clients safe.

Many of the recommendations we made then are still very much in play. Others were probably not emphasized enough. It was an interesting experience to go over that document again from the perspective of this year of practical application and prognostication.

Here, I will offer a few of my thoughts about hygienic practices in massage therapy settings during this transition period as some of the most immediately threatening aspects of the pandemic appear to be receding, at least for the moment. (By the way, a blog on the virus variants will be coming soon, so don’t get TOO comfortable!) Note: If your state or local ordinances have guidelines that are more stringent than the ones I offer here, FOLLOW THEM. This document is purely from my own limited perspective and point of view; it is not meant as definitive guidance.

August 6, 2020: Diligence (Still) Required: Reopening Doesn’t Mean Lower Risks

ABMP connected with epidemiologist Tessa Crume, an associate professor in the Epidemiology Department at the Colorado School of Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, to get her expert advice on our current climate. You can read it here. This piece reinforces our original April 23, 2020 statement, which you can read below.

Moving Forward During Uncertainty: April 23, 2020

Dear Member:

We hope this message finds you and your loved ones well. The past month has been perhaps the most trying we collectively have experienced in our lives. While challenging, it certainly underscores the passion and care of our community. Our staff has spoken with thousands of you over the past few weeks, and we remain focused on supporting you during these unprecedented times. We are committed to you, and we are committed to getting through this together.

Apart from the tragedy of illness and death associated with COVID-19, one of the most difficult things we are dealing with is the uncertainty of the situation—uncertainty because the virus is new and much is unknown about it, because we don’t have sufficient testing—and the questions stemming from that uncertainty that do not have clear answers. How long will it last? How can we stay safe? When will we return to practice?

When we strongly recommended our members close their practice on March 16, it was out of recognition that our collective goal was to slow the spread of the virus to support health-care workers facing a crisis of ability to provide care, and that there was no uncertainty that the best action we could all take was to stay home.

If you are like me, uncertainty drives fear; gaining knowledge and understanding gives me a greater sense of calm. If you have not read this article from The New York Times and/or listened to the associated podcast attached to the article, I encourage you to do so. While not uplifting, it is an extremely well-considered characterization of what life is likely to look like for the next year, or perhaps beyond. I can’t say it is calming, but it is extremely thorough and provides a clear-eyed look at what our country faces going forward.

As you have likely heard or read, there are stirrings in some states and communities to “reopen our country”; the referenced article explains how that is fraught with risk. Nevertheless, our elected officials understandably feel some responsibility to enable economic activity in their state. Our country has added more than 20 million citizens to its unemployment rolls in just over three weeks—a number that dwarfs any historical reference. Beyond proclamations that we “weren’t designed for this,” balancing our collective safety with the psychological and economic needs of Americans is a reality that must be considered.

As the country explores reopening businesses, we are fully in the midst of this uncertainty. Our members are articulating a wide range of views—from wanting us to take a firm stand that massage therapists, bodyworkers, estheticians, and cosmetologists should go back to work before other businesses because a one-on-one setting is safer than other businesses, to believing they should go back to work after other businesses because their work is incompatible with social distancing measures and, therefore, less safe.

The reality is that whenever stay-at-home orders are lifted in your area—earlier or later—many of you are still going to be faced with the question, “Should I go back to work?”

That is not a question we can answer for you.

With the possibility of asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19, every choice we make in the foreseeable future has a real level of risk attached. Even with stringent sanitation protocols and enhanced client screening, there still exists a risk that you will get sick, or your client, or a family member, or more people down the line in your community at large.

It is highly likely that at least tentative steps to begin getting people back to work will occur before epidemiologists fully concur it is smart to take that step.

We urge you to make government permission to work only one element of your decision about whether and when to reopen. If your state is allowing you to reopen, you must then examine all the variables and ask yourself these questions on a personal level: How has your community and state been affected? What is the level of testing in your community? Who is at home, and how vulnerable are they should they become infected? What is the physical and psychological cost of reopening your practice?

Of course, practitioners will make different decisions. While some will dive back in as soon as state permissions are in hand, others likely will pause until certain medical milestones are in place in their community. You will have to find your own comfort zones. Your clients will be making similar assessments, likely arriving at diverse conclusions. Your decisions may vary for different clients; ultimately, your safety—physical, mental, and financial—is your responsibility. No one can decide that for you.

For those members planning to get back to work or seriously contemplating doing so, what follows is a hierarchy of ideas and precautions we strongly encourage you to consider for yourself, your practice, and your clients. I understand that our members’ practices differ: not every idea may fit for you. For every member, I do emphasize the reality that while these may be ways to make your practice safer, there is no known way to eliminate the risk of transmission and infection. There simply is no risk-free environment in which to conduct business today.

That news does not feel good for us to give. We would love nothing more than to be able to share guidelines on what it means to go back to work in perfect safety and health, and hopefully someday not too far down the road we will be able to do that, but this reflects our new uncertain reality. Choose your restart date carefully, adopt new practice protocols, recognize that we may face the possibility of another pause, and understand that future practice will be different from past work.

What we have developed is a very thorough look at the issues and challenges you will face when you resume your practice; our team has been tirelessly developing it over the past several weeks. I encourage you to start with the summary, which provides a good synopsis; should you want to dig in deeper, there are seven other sections of valuable information.

We will continue working on your behalf and will update you as we learn more. Again, know that we are still right here. We are committed to getting through this with our amazing community intact. We wish you and your family safety, health, and well-being.

Warmest regards,

Les Sweeney
Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals
Associated Skin Care Professionals
Associated Hair Professionals
Associated Nail Professionals


US Department of Education 150% Rule Update

A federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction that halts the enforcement of the US Department of Education’s new Bare Minimum Rule, also known as the “100% rule,” until the court takes further action. This is the first step in what could be a lengthy battle to ultimately delay enforcement of the rule, providing schools more time to adjust their programmatic standards, or overturn the rule altogether. Find out more and what your school needs to do to prepare.

Colorado Bill Requires Local Background Checks

Governor Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 24-1371, requiring local government (counties, cities, or municipalities) to conduct periodic criminal background checks for massage establishment operators, owners, and employees.


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Woman massages a client who is lying facedown on a massage table.

As we get closer to celebrating Massage Is for EveryBody, July 14–20, 2024, we wanted to share more of Julie Plachta’s story, which exemplifies the inclusive values of this campaign.


Featured ABMP Discount Partner: Yomassage

ABMP members receive 20% off Signature Yomassage, Mindful Touch by Yomassage, Barefoot Yomassage, Table Yomassage, and Yomassage Facials certifications.


Skills and experience are transferable, but your state massage license is not. On this episode of The ABMP Podcast, ABMP President and CEO Les Sweeney is joined by Debra Persinger, Executive Director at FSMTB, to discuss the Interstate Massage Compact ( IMpact ), how it would affect practitioners, where it stands in regards to legislation, and how it would benefit consumers.

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