A woman in scrubs with a stethoscope around her neck stands behind an overlay that says coronavirus.

In a world where, quite suddenly, handshakes have been replaced by elbow-bumps, employees are instructed to work from home, and Americans are told not to board cruise ships or long-distance flights, what best practices can massage therapists implement during this age of coronavirus?

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is deadly serious. As of March 9, almost 114,000 cases and almost 4,000 deaths had been reported worldwide; 423 cases and 19 deaths had been reported in the U.S.

A coronavirus is transmitted from animal to human and can cause a cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome or other illnesses. The term novel coronavirus “refers to a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans,” according to the World Health Organization.

According to experts, strict cleaning procedures, including frequent, thorough hand-washing and sanitizing surfaces, are necessary to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Many people are choosing to limit face-to-face communication, with meetings, conferences and school classes canceled across the globe. Health-care workers are at risk of contracting the virus. “Is massage therapy safe in the midst of a coronavirus epidemic?” asked massage-and-pathology educator Ruth Werner, BCTMB. “Frankly, we don’t know.”

What is known are the types of sanitizing cleaners that kill the virus — on surfaces only — practices to maintain a healthy immune system, and the importance of thorough handwashing for helping prevent the spread of coronavirus as well as colds and flu.

Communicating with clients and rescheduling those who have coronavirus (COFID-19) symptoms is essential.

We spoke with Werner and with business expert Cherie Sohnen-Moe, as well as with marketing educator and massage therapist Melinda Hastings, BCTMB, for advice to help massage therapists during this challenging time.

MASSAGE Magazine’s editors have also curated the best links to continuously updated information on coronavirus infection rates and recommendations from national health organizations so that you can stay abreast of self-care practices and the latest news. A primer on effective handwashing (which for massage therapists means arm-washing as well) is also included.

Ruth Werner

Communicate with Clients

In the midst of growing concerns over the COVID-19 virus, it is essential that you communicate effectively and frequently with your clients, said Hastings. “Doing so will help clients feel more at ease inside your treatment room and will provide them with the facts they need to make informed decisions,” she said.

Hastings suggests you write an email, post a social media update, and start talking to your clients today.

Melinda Hastings

“With professional, frequent communication, coronavirus doesn’t have to create a hardship on your business,” she added, suggesting that you focus on how the coronavirus is transmitted; symptoms the client should monitor for and when those symptoms create a contraindication for massage; and the steps you are actively taking inside your treatment room to keep your clients safe and healthy.

“Including links directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website will give your clients peace of mind that you are following legitimate and factual protocols,” Hastings said.

Cherie Sohnen-Moe

Cherie Sohnen-Moe, author of Business Mastery, and a massage business educator, suggests posting a notice within your massage sessions room to tell clients what you are doing to help keep them safe.

“Hang a poster on your office wall,” she said. “Tell them the steps you are taking to ensure their safety while in your treatment space:

• How you handle laundry

• How you clean and sanitize your table and equipment between sessions

• How often you sanitize pens and credit card machine

• How often you sanitize door handles and chairs

• How you practice your own personal hygiene and hand-washing

• Where they can find alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your office

According to Werner, initiating direct conversations with scheduled clients to determine that neither they nor anyone in their circle is exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus — and then rescheduling them, free of charge — is another important step to keeping you and your practice safe.

Safety Procedures: 5 Things

This list of five safety procedures to put in place immediately was provided to MASSAGE Magazine by Werner, author of A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, 7th ed.

1. Handwashing is the first, foremost and fiercest protection from spreading this infection. As massage therapists, we probably wash our hands more than most people. Doesn’t matter, do it more. Step up your handwashing game, and you’ll have the added benefit of limiting COVID-19, flu and other hand-borne cooties in your world. (Read “Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus & Other Pathogens.”)

2. COVID-19 typically isn’t easily spread through airborne particles. Instead it is more likely to be transmitted through touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

What this means is we can demonstrate our dedication to hygiene and safety by cleaning not only our table and massage equipment, but also our doorknobs, light switches, cellphones, keyboards and anything else we or our clients touch. (Maybe do it so that clients can see you in action. This not only shows them you know how to take care of your environment, it may also prompt them to take similar actions with their own environments.)

3. COVID-19 does not appear to cause serious disease in most younger people who are fundamentally healthy. For people with autoimmune or chronic lung problems, this is a different situation.

The best option for now is to ask clients to reschedule if they or anyone in their circle of acquaintance are sick. Consider not charging for this rescheduling—that is just a disincentive for people to tell you the truth.

4. Take excellent care of your own health. This is not the time to push your limits for getting enough sleep or eating healthy food. Invest in your own wellbeing so you can be the resource your clients need.

Avoid panicking, and get your information from credible sources. The World Health Organization and the CDC are good sources for up-to-date information.

What Not to Do: 3 Things

According to Werner, this is what not to do:

1. Don’t panic. It doesn’t help anyone, least of all your clients.

2. Don’t use face masks, they don’t help, unless you’re sick already. And if you are, stay home and away from others.

3. Don’t neglect your own health and self-care.

According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and may appear two to 14 days after exposure.

Effective Cleaning Procedures

Properly cleaning your treatment room can make a significant difference in the health and safety of your clients, said Hastings.

“In addition to standard between-client cleaning tasks such as providing fresh linens and blankets, wiping your table and appropriate tools,” she said, the following areas should also be included in your sanitizing procedures:

• Door handles inside and out; toilet handle; faucet

• Hot towel cabinet door

• Product containers

• Massage stool

• Light switches

• Cell phone/iPad/computer

• Pens

• Counters

• Clipboards

“In addition to thorough hand washing between clients, it is a great idea to ‘gel-in’ upon entering your treatment room and prior to placing your hands on the client,” Hastings said. “Clients will appreciate this extra step and will be encouraged to ‘gel-out’ before leaving.”

Helpful Links

The CDC’s guide, “Protect Yourself and Your Family”

Article on effective handwashing: “Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus & Other Pathogens”

World Health Organization’s “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19 Outbreak” guide, with information on self-protection, travel advice and more.

The CDC’s guide, “Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities”

California Massage Council’s “What You Need to Know about Coronavirus” and list of recommendations.

Environmental Protection Agency’s list of approved sanitizers to use against coronavirus.

Ultimately, your health and well-being are paramount. Follow safety procedures to keep your physical massage practice free of viruses. Determine if clients have symptoms, or if their acquaintances do. Importantly, as well: Communicate directly and frequently with clients.

“You can be sure clients are thinking about these things,” said Sohnen-Moe. “When you are transparent and proactive with your communications, your clients will feel more at ease with continuing their regular schedules. Also, remind them that stress affects health, so getting a massage is actually a proactive step to take right now.”

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief.