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January 19, 2018

Massage Therapists and the Battle Against Cold & Flu Season

As we enter the depths of the cold and flu season, massage therapists have an extra responsibility to their clients, communities, and themselves to prevent the spread of harmful germs and bacteria. We come in close contact with multiple people throughout our work day, which makes it especially easy to spread cold and flu-causing viruses. However, some simple precautions can help keep you and your clients healthy and happy.

Hand Washing is Your First and Best Defense

While it may seem obvious, keeping your hands clean is the easiest way to prevent the spread of cold-causing viruses. From office door handles, to coffee cups, to elevator buttons, there are an infinite number of high-touch points that can all harbor viruses and bacteria.

washing hands with soap and water

Luckily, frequent hand washing is the most effective method of preventing those viruses and bacteria from transferring to you (and then to your clients). Here’s a step by step approach to effective hand washing for massage therapists.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, warm, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. If you use your forearms and elbows during a massage, be sure to wash them too!
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Humming the “Happy Birthday” or “ABC” song from beginning to end twice is a good timer.
  4. Turn on the tap and rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a paper towel.
  6. Use the paper towel to turn off the tap and to open the bathroom door before recycling it or disposing of it in the trash.

This method ensures that your freshly washed hands won’t come into contact with any high-touch points where viruses and bacteria can lurk.

Now that you know how best to wash your hands, when should you wash them?

  • Before and after every massage session
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching garbage
  • After touching used linens or dirty equipment

You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth during or after a massage until you can wash your hands. In lieu of hand washing, it’s okay to use hand sanitizing gel throughout a massage session as needed but, it should never replace regular hand washing. If you do use it, make sure to massage it into your hands for a full 30 seconds to let the sanitizer do its job.

Institute a Firm ‘Stay-At-Home’ Policy

It can be hard sometimes when we’re sick to admit it to ourselves. We might think that a little sniffle is nothing to worry about. Despite feeling a cold coming on, many of us will still keep our appointments until we are in full-blown sickness.

girl in a blue hat with a cold blowing her nose

Our massage clients are no different. Many of them will arrive for their session in denial about what their little sniffle might be, or even thinking that a good massage is just the thing to help them feel better. The reality is that getting a massage during a cold may actually make them feel worse!

Massage therapy stimulates the immune system and if your client is fighting off a cold, receiving a massage may actually increase their symptoms. Never mind that they may be transmitting their cold to you and the rest of your clients.

Likewise, if you are feeling sick, you have a responsibility to not transmit your virus to your clients. If you sense that you are coming down with something, do yourself and your clients the favor of calling to cancel and reschedule their appointments. You may lose a few sessions in doing so, but most clients will appreciate that you are putting their well-being above your income and happily reschedule for a later date when you are feeling better.

It’s important to communicate these facts to your clients from the get-go and as cold and flu season makes its annual appearance, remind them of them through an email, newsletter, or via your social media outlets.

One easy way to convey this information to your clients up front is to enter into a “Wellness Agreement” with them as part of their initial sign up. This can be a separate section of their intake form that simply says something like:

“Wellness Agreement: If I am sick, I will call and reschedule my massage appointment so that I do not transmit my illness to my massage therapist or their other clients. I also understand that should my therapist be sick, they will call me to reschedule my appointment so that they do not transmit their illness to me.”

After the statement, you can provide a place for them to initial that they understand and accept this agreement.

Target Points of Mutual Contact

Another technique you can employ during cold and flu season is to take extra care in cleaning your massage studio and equipment. Besides always changing your linens after each client, clean the entire massage table after each session.

Use a commercially available disinfecting wipe or a spray with bleach solution of 1 Tbsp of bleach to 1 Qt of water. Sanitize and wipe down the entire surface of your massage table and face cradle after every session. You can use the same wipes or bleach solution to clean any equipment or high-touch areas.

Clean after every massage session:

  • Massage oil and lotion bottles
  • Massage bolsters, props, and arm rests
  • Massage tools such as thumb savers or trigger point knobs

Clean daily (at least):

  • Massage table leg and face cradle adjustment points
  • Doorknobs
  • Sink taps and sink
  • Toilet seat, handle, and lid
  • Light switches

The easiest way to remember what to clean and when is as follows:

  • Anything that contacts you or a client during a session, clean after every massage.
  • Anything that you or your clients touch before or after a session, clean daily.

Vaccinate Against Intruders

Finally, viruses are everywhere and the average adult gets 2-3 colds per year. Even if you follow the above guidelines, regular flu shots and other vaccinations should be maintained and up-to-date. Talk to your doctor, tell them what you do for a living, and ask them what vaccinations they recommend to help prevent you from getting sick in the first place.

female doctor vaccinating a senior man

We employ all of these methods at the San Francisco School of Massage & Bodywork to help prevent the spread of colds and flu to our students, instructors, and faculty. While nothing will prevent all infections, implementing these proven techniques in your massage practice will sharply reduce the risk of infection to you and your clients and defend against the spread of viruses. Be well, and massage happy!

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

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San Francisco School of Massage & Bodywork

School Campus
475 Valencia Street – 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
415-474-4600
Student Clinic
– Located at the School Campus
475 Valencia Street – 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
415-474-4600