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COVID-19 and Massage Therapy


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.