Detail Of A Government Document Detailing Guidelines For The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has necessitated the closure of many thousands of massage therapy practices. Learn why this is necessary.

Massage Therapy and Coronavirus

A massage therapist expressed his frustration to me about being out of work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, said he believes it’s a hoax, and asked my opinion.

At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant by “hoax,” because this virus definitely exists, is unquestionably spreading, and is causing considerable sickness and death.

He contested that every year seasonal flu leaves thousands hospitalized and dead, and that car accidents in the U.S. kill roughly a hundred people daily — so why are we giving the coronavirus so much attention and telling people to stay home, distance themselves, not work, and not give or receive massage, when its toll is far lower than other harmful agents and events?

Good question.

4 Key Aspects of Coronavirus

I am a doctor of chiropractic as well as a massage therapist, and I have studied microbiology and other health-related topics. I understand basics about viruses but don’t claim to be a medical researcher or epidemiologist. Like others, I’ve been following the knowledge, data and suggestions offered by leading health experts we see constantly in the news who appear to be presenting without political or economic agendas.

Four key things indicate why this virus is different from others we’ve been observing for over a century, and why accident-related fatalities are not fair comparisons. (Keep in mind as data emerged over decades about car accidents, more safety standards and regulations were implemented. The same is true for contagious diseases.)

1. This corona viral strain is new to humans. We know the expected impact of other common flu viruses, but we do not know about the coronavirus. We don’t how fast it can spread, how far and in how many ways. This translates to not knowing exactly how much of the population it can potentially reach, all the ways it can transmit, and its harmful effects. 

2. Viruses tend to mutate into different strains with different fatality rates. Because COVID-19 is novel to us, we don’t know how much it can mutate, how long, or the harmful effects the mutations can impose.

Most experts believe it will most likely follow the typical mutational course of other viruses, which is to weaken and eventually peter out, at least during the current seasonal exposure. They say there’s a great likelihood it will dim down or die out for now, lay dormant, but then return, perhaps during the next flu season. Because we really don’t know what courses it can take, the last thing anyone wants is to find out too late that it took the worse mutational turns imaginable.

In health care, it’s best to err on the side of caution rather than take unnecessary and unknown risks. At the least, do no harm.

Of course, we all hope the coronavirus contagion and fatality rates dwindle, but it’s now spreading in an upward spiral. It viciously attacks the lungs, even lethally in the immunocompromised and elderly — and increasingly, in young and otherwise healthy people too — and hospitals are so critically overwhelmed now they are literally having to triage who lives or dies.

That’s no hoax, and a strong reason experts want people to isolate to slow down the spread.

3. There are no treatments to prevent or cure this virus yet. Because the virus is new to humans, we haven’t developed specific antibodies to fight it off or to make vaccines. Common seasonal flu viruses are far more predictable, we have antibodies to ward off many flu viruses, and many people receive preventive flu shots. 

COVID-19’s harmful potentiality is an evolving study. What is known so far, is that, globally, about 3.4% of reported cases have died — although that figure might be inflated due to underreporting of coronavirus cases.

A new report published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases placed the morbidity rate at 0.66%. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 0.1% of those infected.

We want to do all we can to prevent the current pandemic from becoming much worse.  If we prevail in preventing rampant spread from happening through social distancing and proper sanitizing, some people will claim all the worries and precautions were a hoax. But what will they say if precautions are not taken, if the virus creates unprecedented devastation, killing 10 or 20 million Americans?

They might ask, “Why weren’t we better warned?”

No one wants that very real catastrophic possibility to happen, which is why social distancing is being urged if not mandated.

4. There is much we don’t know about this virus’ impact on our populous. It teaches us, and we follow its data trails to better hypothesize predictability probabilities. 

One thing we do know about this and other viruses is the main way we can slow or stop them from spreading is by avoiding close contact with others.

That’s a known fact.

Besides transmitting through direct contact or droplets, it’s also been shown to remain in the air for up to three hours. So just by breathing in close proximity to it, you can contract it and become a carrier.

With Massage and Coronavirus, Risks Outweigh Benefits

As a massage therapist, it’s important for you to act as professionally safe in your health care practice as you would expect other practitioners to do. While sanitizing surfaces and wearing masks are good precautions, they’re not enough. Unfortunately, for those us who work in close proximity and in direct contact with others, the only way to assuredly help prevent transmission is through physical distancing.

Health care is based on risks versus benefits. Massage can certainly benefit people by helping to reduce pain, spasm and emotional distress in many instances. No one questions that relief from the emotional distress everyone is feeling now is greatly needed, or how massage’s secondary and tertiary effects can benefit the nervous system, hormonal system, and arguably boost immune responses.

However, the essential risk of transmitting the coronavirus between clients and yourself and contaminating others you both come into contact with seriously outweighs the benefits massage offers.

Not practicing for a while undoubtedly causes huge financial and other burdens on your life. This will change in time. Meanwhile, it’s important for you, your clients, and everyone else to stay safe and help mitigate the viral spread. It’s better to lose some money than lose a life.

Sound extreme? Maybe it is.

But seeing how coronavirus and its effect on human life are evolving, one thing is certain — it’s not a hoax.

Editor’s note:  Visit MASSAGE Magazine’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Page for more information on maintaining a massage clientele; self-care; and news on coronavirus related to the massage field.

Michael Koplen, DC, LMT, is a longtime massage therapist and doctor of chiropractic. He maintains a clinical practice and runs the Masters In Massage Institute, which provides client management-oriented protocols and communications to advance massage therapists’ professional skills and practice success.