What’s a Health Intake?

And Why Is It Critical to My Massage?

By Karrie Osborn

One of the most important things you can do as a massage client is to be open and honest with your practitioner. The information you give them about your past and present health conditions helps your therapist construct a session that is safe and adaptive to you and your needs. Why does it matter if your therapist knows the medications you’re on, the surgeries you’ve had, or the recent diagnosis you just received? Let’s ask some experts.


Yes, It’s Important

You likely filled out a thorough health history intake form when you first started visiting your massage therapist or bodyworker. And, on repeat visits, you may have given your therapist shorter health updates, including information on any new medications or recent health events. Now, in the days of COVID-19, you likely are answering a whole host of new questions for your massage therapist related to the coronavirus—questions like exposure to the virus, possible symptoms, and recent travel.  
Ruth Werner, author, educator, and pathology expert in the field of manual therapies, says those health intakes you fill out are important because your massage therapist needs to have a thorough understanding of your health situation in order to give you the safest and most effective massage possible. And it shouldn’t be just the “big stuff” that you share, like a recent hospitalization; sometimes the smaller stuff is just as important to divulge to your practitioner, like the medication you’ve been prescribed to help you sleep. “Even mild, well-controlled conditions that you live with may require some accommodations to help you get the best from your massage. And any medications that you use may influence how safe massage might be, so it is important to share this information.”
Diana Thompson, creator of Hands Heal Electronic Health Records and an expert in massage therapy documentation, says there are two critical categories that clients need to share with their therapists: current and previous health information.
“Current health information covers presenting (‘what I have now’) symptoms and health conditions,” she says. Knowing about your symptoms—any aches, numbness, or stiffness—improves the effectiveness of the session and helps your therapist avoid causing any pain or discomfort in those areas, while still addressing them mindfully. “Your therapist’s hands may find the details, but outlining your symptoms helps get them to the key places quicker. Knowing your various health conditions is important, as some come with complications that warrant caution.”
Sharing previous health information (past injuries, surgeries, conditions) is also helpful, Thompson says. “Historical information helps make sense of the problem areas and unravel the mystery behind the symptoms. There might be residual damage from an old injury, scar tissue from surgeries, or compensational movement patterns from protecting an old condition.” This information also helps your therapist get to the deeper issues and develop an ongoing plan for care.

Yes, Really Important

But why, you ask, would my massage therapist or Rolfer need to know I’ve got diabetes or take high blood pressure medication or blood thinners? That’s my private information; why do I need to share it?
Your bodywork practitioner needs to know about your health history because the work they do may impact your health, Werner says. “For instance, if you’re on blood thinners, your therapist needs to know why (because some cardiovascular conditions require some adaptations in bodywork), and also if you bruise easily (because that might alter the kind of work they do with you). If you have diabetes, it is possible you might experience a precipitous drop in blood glucose during or after your session, and it’s good to be prepared for that. If you inject insulin or have a pump, your therapist needs to know where that happens to avoid disrupting your treatment in any way.” 
You may think that sharing some of your health information can’t possibly be helpful for your massage therapist to know. But, as Werner warns, “If you leave important information off your intake form, your massage therapist will not be able to anticipate any special accommodations that might make your massage safer and more effective. Someone who does not tell their massage therapist about their blood pressure medication, for instance, may feel more-than-usually fatigued and disoriented after their massage. Someone who has eczema is probably better off with hypoallergenic lubricants.” But your practitioner can’t deduce this without all the facts. “Massage therapists can’t make appropriate adjustments in your session if they don’t know what you need,” Werner says.
Finally, the experts remind us this is a confidential process. “Your massage therapist has to obey the same privacy rules as any other professional, so your information is secure with them,” Werner says.


Additional Reasons Why Health Intakes Are Important for Massage Therapists and Clients

According to pathology expert Ruth Werner, filling out health intakes:
• Allows practitioners to document your goals for bodywork, so they can be sure to give you the session you want.
• Allows practitioners to track progress toward your goals, so you can see whether or how much you have progressed, or if your strategies need to change.
• Allows therapists you might see at a franchise or multi-practitioner clinic to share important information about your health, your goals, and your preferences with each other, which means your sessions will be better tailored just for you.

Karrie Osborn is senior editor for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.