Massage Etiquette 102: What to Do About Colds & Flu

Jan 23, 07:09 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

I have to go over this subject with my clients every winter, so it occurs to me that the public at large is unaware of how to handle this issue: what do you do when you have a massage (or acupuncture or chiropractic appointment, etc.) and you have a cold or the flu?

Speaking strictly on behalf of aromatherapists and bodyworkers, I can tell you that we all cringe when a client comes in and casually announces, "I have a cold, but it's just a little cold," or "I have a cold but I'm not contagious."

Newsflash: There is no such thing as a "little" cold. You either have a cold or you don't. If you have a cold, you're contagious. Period.

If a therapist is spending an hour or more in direct physical contact with your body and you are contagious, chances are that you will infect them or their premises, even if they are scrupulous about proper sanitation. With rapidly multiplying cold/flu pathogens, it's a numbers game and the longer the contact, the higher the likelihood of passing your germs along. 

When a massage therapist gets a cold or the flu, they are ethically obligated to close their practice until they are recovered. This puts a financial strain on the therapist. Worse yet, during the incubation period, the therapist may unwittingly infect other clients (even if she herself does not become ill). If you are seeing a therapist who also has clients with compromised immune systems, passing your cold along may have deadly consequences for others. Elderly clients, those undergoing cancer treatment, persons with chronic respiratory illness or those with HIV/AIDS may not survive a bout with the flu or a simple cold. I can't emphasize how deadly serious this situation can be: last month, one of my elderly clients with COPD contracted a cold during holiday travel and spent a week in ICU battling double pneumonia and congestive heart failure.

Do everyone a favor. Reschedule your appointment for a later date when you've had time to fully recover. Ditto for yoga and Pilates classes, gym workouts, and your early morming fitness bootcamp. Skip 'em. Keep your flu to yourself.

Besides the obvious concerns above, there's a more insidious issue at hand when you engage in any activity that boosts your circulation while you're ill. Whether receiving a massage or indulging in a gym workout, the sudden increase in blood and lymphatic circulation can push a cold or flu infection into the heart. While this seldom occurs, it's a real possibility and is almost always fatal.

Lastly, receiving bodywork when you have a cold is not going to make you feel better. If anything, it may make you feel worse. Neither you nor your therapist wants that!

When it comes to colds and flu, call and cancel. Everyone will thank you for it.




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