COVID-19 and Massage Therapy

Read the latest information on coronavirus for the massage profession

Construction traffic sign displaying "Stay Home"

Be sure to read the special COVID-19 digital-only issue of Massage & Bodywork magazine.

First, Do No Harm

By Laura Allen

In the past couple of months, COVID-19, popularly referred to as coronavirus, has been the main focus of the news media. It’s not the first pandemic in the world, but it may be the first in our lifetime that has had such a widespread effect on our own soil, and on massage therapists. In the 21 years of my own practice of massage, this is the first time an illness other than my own, or that of a client, has caused a disruption of business.

Many states are shutting down all nonessential businesses, including massage therapy. In some places, there are also mandated shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

I tried to get the message across about shutting down for a couple of weeks before our governor ordered it. So did respected author and educator Ruth Werner, whose letter about it appears on the ABMP website, as well as other educators and therapists that I respect and admire.

We are obligated to first, do no harm. In spite of that, social media is full of therapists arguing that massage is an essential service. Claims that I have personally read include:

  • “My clients will be suicidal if they cannot see me.”
  • “The hospital will be full of my clients if they can’t get their massage.”
  • “Obviously, you’ve never done medical massage, or you would know that it’s absolutely necessary.”
  • “This virus is just trendy.”

The amount of ego and lack of being client-centered in these statements is astounding. This is not a dress rehearsal for a disaster; it is a disaster.

The US is now leading the world in cases of COVID-19. Some therapists are convinced that they are of the same importance in this life-or-death situation as physicians, nurses, and other front-line responders who are bravely putting themselves at risk in order to treat the sick. Many hospitals are facing shortages of enough tests, supplies, and equipment to go around, so we have to be realistic about where we fit in as massage therapists.

It is true that massage therapists are licensed under health-care statutes in some states, but we have to be mindful that—even where that is the case—we are not essential front-line responders. We are not saving lives. No one is going to die without a massage.

When this is over, your clients will remember that their safety was your first concern, and they’ll be back. Even if your state has not mandated it, I urge you to stop now. Just do the right thing: first, do no harm.

This article also appeared in the special COVID-19 issue of Massage & Bodywork.

Laura Allen has been a licensed massage therapist since 1999 and a provider of continuing education classes since 2000. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including the fifth edition of The Educated Heart, which Nina McIntosh entrusted to her before her passing. Allen resides in Western North Carolina with her husband, James Clayton, and her two rescue dogs, Fido and Queenie.


Thank you so much for such a clear and forceful response. I've been astonished by the glibness I have seen re Covid-19. Not the flu. Not mild. Not trivial. Massage is not essential.

Trustpilot Reviews


New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Survey

New Mexico's governor and the Regulation and Licensing Department are looking to streamline the application and renewal procedures for licensure. Participate in the survey before December 7, 2021.



Free Partner Webinar: How to Use Topical Analgesics in Your Bodywork

ABMP CE Summit sponsor Stopain Clinical is offering a free webinar for massage therapists and bodyworkers titled "How to Use Topical Analgesics in Your Bodywork" on Wednesday, November 10, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. ET.

The open-forum Q&A event will feature a panel hosted by InReach Health's Craig Hall and featuring Dr. Jeff Forman, Nathalie Cecelia, Teresa Matthews, and Mira Rucker.

ABMP CE Summit Course: A Global Approach to the Knee

Join Allison Denney as she connects connective tissue and manages muscle tissue in and around the knee. Take a closer look at what moves this knobby joint toward dysfunction and gain some perspectives and techniques that bring balance to an otherwise off-kilter structure. 

Please note: We have recently updated our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Learn more...