Massage During a Pandemic: What Does It Look Like for Clients?

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Massage therapist wearing face mask giving massage to client wearing face mask

By Allissa Haines

When I decided to go back to work last fall, as the COVID-19 pandemic was waxing and waning throughout the country, I found the biggest challenge was how to articulate all the protocol changes to my clients. I wanted to gently discourage people who were engaging in high-risk activities from scheduling a session, while I encouraged those who felt comfortable to come get a massage. I wanted to ease any concerns about transmission while not overstating the safety of the activity.

Stepping Into the Client’s Shoes

It was difficult to share all the pertinent information without being so wordy that clients stopped reading. After many failed stops and starts and edits and rewrites, I decided to put myself in my clients’ shoes.

I thought through my own hesitancy to get a haircut or dental cleaning or massage. I followed my own processes of scheduling an appointment and completing the new intake form. I physically walked into my office and sat in the client chair in the massage room. I laid on my own table with my mask on, figured out how to make the face rest and my mask work together comfortably, and listened to my new air cleaner hum. The whole experience of pretending you are your own client is always illuminating; never more so than preparing for clients after a pandemic closure.

I also got a massage from a colleague and that was helpful in finding details I missed and gathering ideas for my own communications. All of this helped me create a helpful resource for my clients that was personable and friendly, but still expressed my protocols and needs well.

Here’s the blog post I wrote for my clients, and I’m going to break down each part of my resource for you:

I acknowledged the weirdness and my prolonged absence:

“Getting a massage, and giving massage, after spending 6–7 months limiting interaction with other people, seems so … weird. And yet, plenty of massage businesses in Massachusetts have been open and busy since late June. I am so fortunate I was able to sink into this unexpected time off and take an elongated break and also take my time finding a space more suited to current safety protocols. In making the decision to return to work and in choosing this space I consulted multiple resources and created new protocols to meet the current environment.”

I shared my resources:

“I’ve studied two guides from FSMTB [Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards] and Healwell for best practices for operating a massage business during the pandemic and made sure I comply with the Massachusetts Workplace Safety Standards for Close Contact Workers. I’ve read and watched several interviews with epidemiologists specifically related to massage environments and talked to my own doctor about keeping my space safe. The consensus is that masks and ventilation are the key. In my new room, I’ve got an air filter that turns over the air in the room 4–6 times an hour with a filter known to capture SARS microns and presumed to capture this coronavirus’s particles as well. And I’ve got a window and fan to fully ventilate the massage room between clients. I also installed MERV-13 filters in all the HVAC intakes in the office.”

I outlined the safety features of my new office:

“This new office has a private entrance and bathroom and I’m scheduling more time between clients to ventilate with windows and fans, and to clean the massage room, bathroom, and reception area with an EPA-approved hydrogen peroxide-based cleaner.”

I gently encouraged “no talking” in the massage room:

“Want to talk about dwell time (the amount of time disinfectants need to remain wet on surfaces to properly disinfect)? CADR (clean air delivery rate)? Mask protocols? Donning and doffing scrubs? I’m your girl! Actually, I’m not. Because we know that talking increases the amount of aerosol emission, so we’re going to keep that to a minimum in the massage room.”

I mentioned the state mask requirements again:

“The Massachusetts Safety Standards mean your massage will look a little different for a while. Masks are required 100% of the time for both the client and the practitioner. I wear a fresh new shirt for every client. So fancy! I’ll also be asking to spray your hands with sanitizer as you enter the office.”

I clarified new payment protocols:

“I’m asking clients to pay for appointments via the button in the reminder emails to cut down on us touching the same devices, pens, money, etc. after your appointment. If you prefer to pay with cash or check, please have the exact amount or the check prewritten.”

I gave my clients some responsibility:

“I want to be safe, and I want my clients to be safe. Many of my clients are immune-compromised, have a history of cancer, and/or are over age 60. It’s my job to protect them, and it’s your job to protect me.

• Please cancel your appointment if you or anyone in your house has been ill or if you know or suspect you have been exposed.

• Please cancel if you have traveled outside of Massachusetts to any of the states not considered Low Risk in the 2 weeks before your appointment.

• Please do not schedule a massage if you have participated in higher-risk activities like socializing indoors without masks, attending large events and hugging people you don’t live with, eating indoors with people you don’t live with, etc. You get the idea. If you’re living on the pandemic edge, now is not a good time for a massage with me, OK?”

I shared contingency plans:

My last bit was all about a contingency plan (this probably helped me more than my clients).

I firmly believe that any open business should have a “What If?” plan in place. Here’s mine:

“In the event that I know or suspect I have been exposed to COVID-19, I will cancel all appointments and self-isolate until I can obtain testing and have been confirmed negative.

If a client calls to report that they have tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of their massage session, I will contact all clients seen in that window and self-isolate until I can obtain testing and be cleared of infection.

In the event that I test positive for COVID-19, I will inform all clients from the previous 14 days and self-isolate until I can be cleared of infection.

In the event that YOU test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days after your session, please contact me as soon as possible so that I may self-isolate and get tested.

I don’t know what the next year is going to look like. Really, I don’t know what the next month will look like. If rates in Massachusetts spike, I’ll probably shut down for a bit, even if the state doesn’t require me to. We’re all in this together. We’ll navigate as we go, and I’ll do my best to make decisions that keep massage as safe as it can be for all of us.”

The End Result

I emailed my post to my client list, and those who felt comfortable scheduled appointments and came prepared for their appointments with masks, prepayment, and less chattiness. There were some tweaks I made to policies as we moved forward (I started requesting clients wear a tight-fitting mask) and clients were flexible and gracious.

Many clients responded to let me know they would be waiting until after vaccination to return and included well wishes. That was good for my soul, and heartening to know I could be back to full practice by summer 2021.

My approach worked well for me, but I’m curious what worked for you? Did notifying your clients of new protocols go well, or was it rocky? Share in the comments!

author bio

Allissa Haines is a practicing massage therapist and co-founder of massagebusinessblueprint.com, an online community and resource to help you attract more clients, make more money, and improve your quality of life.

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