To say this year has been a little stressful would probably be an understatement for many Americans. With COVID-19 numbers remaining high in the U.S., some are wondering if it’s safe to resume their regular luxuries — such as getting a much-needed massage.
Many spas and massage parlors have already returned to business, but is it safe? Experts say the answer may not be so black and white.
What the Experts Say
With just about any spa service, it’s nearly impossible to practice social distancing standards recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a massage setting, being in close contact with your massage therapist is unavoidable.
Since COVID-19 is spread mainly between people within six feet of each other, this brings significant concern to whether massages are safe at all.
“Social or physical distancing is not really possible with massage and acupuncture,” Michelle L. Dossett, assistant professor of general internal medicine at UC Davis Health told Healthline in an interview. “If the prevalence of COVID-19 infections is high locally, you might want to wait until the number of cases decreases.”
There are also additional concerns about COVID-19 spreading by coming in contact with frequently-touched surfaces or infected aerosols lingering in the air.
“If someone who was infected with COVID-19 left respiratory droplets on the massage table an hour or two before your massage, you could theoretically catch it if the table was not cleaned in between clients,” Dossett explained.
However, Dossett didn’t leave it there. She noted that professional societies and public health guidelines are recommending massage therapists take extra precautions, including cleaning table surfaces between clients.
“If the prevalence of COVID-19 in the local community is low and appropriate precautions are maintained, these services can be delivered relatively safely,” she said.
Adjala agreed that massage services could be “relatively safe” if all of the proper safety guidelines are followed, but safe seems to be a loose term. He said ultimately, the best thing is to talk to your massage therapist and find out what measures they are taking ahead of time.
Thomas Russo, chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, agreed, noting that there is always going to be some risk of infection when participating in these services.
“You can minimize risk so it’s relatively safe, but you can never drive risk down to zero,” he told Health.com in an interview. “Everyone has to be wearing masks—good masks—and wearing them properly. That’s an absolute mandatory aspect of this or any sort of indoor activity.”
Despite all of these potential safety measures, the general consensus among experts seems to be that if it’s not essential for your health, getting a massage can wait.
“If this is a purely pampering luxury time that you could do without and you’re a vulnerable individual or you interact with vulnerable individuals, it’s best to skip it,” Russo said. “But if massage is really important for your pain-related issues, and you don’t live in a multi-generational household or with vulnerable individuals then it might be worth considering. You have to weigh the risks and benefits.”
Kim agreed, noting that the services should be reserved for those who really need them for pain management.
“We see a lot of cancer patients who have a lot of pain and who are suffering greatly. Certain exceptions should be made, especially for palliative purposes, for serious conditions,” Kim said. “If it’s just for a luxury item, if somebody doesn’t need it, it might be best to forgo them if it’s not necessary.”
If you still need a massage
If you still want to get that massage fix, there may be some safer options available worth trying.
Some organizations offer home massages, which would limit your interaction with people outside of your house. However, Adalja cautions that there are still risks with this alternative.
“Corporate massage chains have put in place a lot of different measures that are not going to be present if you’re getting a home massage,” he said. “But having a massage at home means you won’t have to be in a waiting room, around other people.”
Outdoor massages may be a better option, if you can find a place that offers them. If that’s not available, then make sure you do what you can to mimic an outdoor setting.
“If you need to do it indoors, ideally it would be a room that has windows and I would advocate in this case for keeping the windows open and perhaps having a HEPA filter. Between patients, I would let the room air out for about 15 minutes after it’s been cleaned down with medical-grade wipes,” Kim said.
There are also products and tools you can try that will help work out knots and relieve pain all by yourself, safe at home. Refinery29 suggested trying things like an acupressure mat set, massage guns and gua-sha tools to help you get by until it’s safe.