How to Safely Get Massages During COVID

·6 min read
How to Safely Get Massages During COVID
  • Getting a massage during COVID isn't high risk if you have already been fully vaccinated prior to doing so.

  • Unvaccinated individuals face the most risk for getting sick in poorly ventilated facilities.

  • Wearing a mask, even if you are vaccinated, can help stem the spread of COVID-19 to those around you. A masseuse should also be wearing a mask, plus take five other precautionary steps to ensure spread is low.

If there's ever been time to hire a massage therapist, it's right now: Body aches and pains are at an all-time high after the stress and fatigue of a year spent mostly at home. But since the pandemic is still very much happening and COVID-19 continues to spread (about 13,000 new cases daily on average), you might be wondering if it's okay to return to a spa-like setting at this time.

If you're one of the 146 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated, great news: There's very little risk associated with you hopping on the massage table and letting stress physically melt away. COVID-19 vaccines have proved effective in blocking the spread of the disease and reducing or eliminating most all symptoms on the off chance that you do contract it after your vaccine.

If you're not yet vaccinated, put simply, signing up for a vaccine is the quickest way to reduce nearly all of the risk associated with heading inside a massage clinic (among other places), explains Taylor Nelson, D.O., an infectious disease specialist with University of Missouri Health Care. "[I'm] confident in the way that COVID-19 vaccines work, and we're seeing very few numbers of breakthrough infections. If you're worried about contracting COVID-19 while doing massage therapy or physical therapy or anything similar, I would encourage you to get the vaccine; it's really the best way to protect yourself and the people you go home to."

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Getting a massage before receiving a vaccination is likely highly risky, as classified in transmission risk by officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But since COVID-19 is dominantly airborne, even vaccinated individuals face a small risk of contracting the disease and spreading it to those in their household after receiving a massage in a minimally ventilated room.

Taking a few precautions is a great idea to truly make your next massage appointment relaxing — and not cause even more stress and aches!

Are massages risky during COVID?

When the pandemic began, scientists weren't sure how much of a role that close contact — or physical touch, like the kind you'll be receiving in most any massage — played in the spread of COVID-19. Recent research and data development make this easier to answer, now, though: It's highly unlikely that you'll catch COVID-19 alone due to a massage therapist's hands on your body.

"Evidence suggests that probably a very small percentage of transmission occurs that way. And this data was established even before vaccinations were underway," Nelson explains. "The risk is pretty low if we continue to follow the same precautions we have since the pandemic began."

Like many other activities, it's hard to calculate the risk of getting a massage during the pandemic because of the variables in each spa or clinic setting; the space of the room you're in, how therapists and other staff are cleaning the facility and the ventilation overall. The most significant risk has to do with ventilation, and if you've yet to receive a vaccine, shared airspace could potentially get you sick.

Should I be wearing a mask during my massage?

The short answer: Yes. Officials at the CDC have cleared fully vaccinated individuals to skip wearing masks while in public or initiate indoor settings, so based on your comfort level after receiving a vaccine and personal risk factor, skipping a mask is an option for you. But for those who are unvaccinated (especially due to health exceptions!), or for those who may be interacting with high-risk individuals at home or elsewhere, wearing a mask can stem much of the risk associated with shared airspace in a spa or clinic.

"If a person is unvaccinated, they should still be following all of those same mitigation strategies that we've been recommending since early on: Wearing a mask, and asking your massage therapist to wear a mask," says Nelson.

What's the safest massage to get?

Risk isn't really influenced by the kind of massage you receive — although, those receiving more intense physical therapy will likely be breathing harder and sweating, which is closer to the risk that one can face in gyms. Mostly, you'll need to return to a spa or clinic that has revised its standards since the pandemic began and is focusing on cleanliness and prevention on behalf of trained staff members. "You should be asking if the therapist will be wearing a mask, or if the facilities are routinely sanitized between clients, and if there's enough space in the facility for you to remain socially distanced if possible," Nelson adds.

Professionals at most spas and clinics should be able to provide all of these services and more, as officials at the American Massage Therapy Association have asked their members and other masseuses to institute the following at their locations:

  • Cleaning and disinfection protocols for all communal areas and any treatment facilities

  • Personal protective gear like masks and gloves

  • Increased hand hygiene and opportunities for clients to do so as well

  • Staggering appointments to ensure facilities are deep cleaned

  • Updated cancellation policies to ensure sick individuals stay home without being penalized

  • Contact tracing information to keep guests informed if an illness occurs

Some states and cities may have special guidelines in place for spas, clinics, and gyms where massages are offered; these precautions are just a baseline consideration for you to use in determining whether or not you should make an appointment in any given location.

What to do after a massage:

Let's say you've just completed a session with a masseuse or a therapist. Now what? You may wonder if you'll need to change, shower, or take any other precaution before returning home.

It's important to try to maintain hand hygiene so you're not spreading germs around your home, in your car, or on your belongings, especially if you live with an immuno-compromised individual. But Nelson explains that you don't necessarily need to change or shower immediately after your massage: "I can't say there's zero risk in someone spreading COVID because of their clothing or germs on items, but COVID-19 is very much a respiratory infection."

Showering after a deep massage is likely a good move for your relaxation — but don't beat yourself up if you choose to wait to get back home into your own bathroom to do so.

The bottom line: The physical aspect of a massage isn't the primary risk for COVID-19 transmission, as this respiratory disease spreads easily in shared airspace in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. While the CDC has given vaccinated individuals the green light to skip masks, for those people who are trying to eliminate the most risk, a mask for you and for your masseuse is the best idea here. "It's totally appropriate to ask the professional or the business about their COVID policies, and they should be able to answer questions about how often they clean, for example," says Nelson.

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