How Safe is Massage in this Pandemic World? (Or “How Clean is my Massage part II”)

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When I wrote the blog “How Clean is my Massage” before the pandemic hit Iowa, I thought I was doing a great job providing a safe, clean environment; and I was, under normal circumstances. During my 10-week hiatus I studied up on the coronavirus/Covid-19 – how it spreads, how it is destroyed, how to lessen the risk of the spread. I took two online courses taught by people who had good backgrounds and great resources. I pored over the CDC, EPA, Public Health and Iowa Coronavirus sites as well as read many articles by leaders in the health and massage world. My questions specifically were how can I make massage safe for my clients and myself and when should I reopen my office? Based on what I’ve learned I developed a protocol for myself and my clients and reopened my office to current clients only on May 20, 2020. In this article I would like to share with you how I am currently operating my business.

First, I realize that there is no way I can eliminate the coronavirus in my office. My clients cannot guarantee they won’t pass it to me and I can’t guarantee I won’t pass it to them, but there are ways to greatly reduce that risk. Since we know that it spreads through airborne droplets, wearing masks and having good ventilation are key, which is why I require masks and have an air purifier in my room. Allowing extra time between clients gives the purifier time to work and any droplets that may have escaped to dissipate. Since wearing a mask would be uncomfortable in the face-down position, I have devised an “extended” mask by affixing a cotton pillow case to the headrest. I even tested it out and could breathe normally for 30+ minutes. While face-up, the client wears a mask and since breathing is slow and gentle, it is barely noticeable. Each client gets a freshly laundered “pillow case mask.”

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But the safeguards begin well before the massage. First, I take my temperature morning and evening to monitor my own health. I wear disinfected shoes that don’t leave the building, changing from my street shoes when I arrive. I now wear scrubs with a smock or apron over them which are changed after every client, along with my mask and gloves. Gloves are worn after the massage while I am cleaning and handling payment. Before I enter the massage room, I scrub with soap, water, and nailbrush up to the elbows for 20+ seconds and use a paper towel to open/close doors.

The entire office is cleaned/sanitized/disinfected between clients, including the restroom after every use. For this reason there are no longer magazines, brochures, upholstered chairs, or excess décor in the reception area or treatment room. All trash cans have been replaced to ones that have lids and are opened using a foot pedal. Gone are the coffee, tea, and mints. In my treatment room whatever cannot be put away has been covered. If a client needs a blanket, pillow, or massage tool, I take time to open the closet and retrieve it. If anything is out in the open during a session, it gets disinfected with an EPA-approved cleaner and all linens – including my lotion holster – are bagged up to be washed after each client. All pillows and the table have new covers that allow for this cleaning and even heating pads are enclosed in special cases.

My clients must fill out a new waiver specific to the coronavirus, wear a mask, and wash hands upon arrival. In fact, I lock the office until shortly before their appointment time, then greet them outdoors, attempting to keep the majority of non-essential talk outside of my small office. Facial massage is done only upon request and then with gloved hands. Hand massage is done last so that I can wash up within minutes – and allow the client to do so as well. My therapy room has a Client Sanitation Station with hand sanitizer, personal wipes, and choice of disposable or freshly laundered cloth mask to use. While touch-free or pre-paid payments are optimal, I have found that simply putting a plastic baggie over my phone works well, disposing of it after every use.

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While these measures may seem extreme to some, it is the “novel” part of the novel coronavirus that requires them. The more we learn, the better prepared we can be. I want everyone to feel safe, whatever their personal belief may be.

Trust is key in the relationship between client and therapist. The therapist trusts that the client is honest in relating all health issues and the client trusts the therapist to do no harm and keep their health as a priority. Especially in these times of extreme stress it is important to me to provide a safe, healthy, peaceful environment to help my clients heal mentally, emotionally, and physically. In all my dealings with other massage therapists across the nation, I think I can say that this reflects the overall feeling for us. May you have a healthy, peaceful day!

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