Read This Before You Get a Massage

What you should know as physical therapists, acupuncturists, and massage therapists are starting to see clients again

Ashley Abramson
Elemental
Published in
7 min readJun 23, 2020

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Photo: tekinturkdogan/Getty Images

Almost every week, 46-year-old Nina Strommen, a Minneapolis-based nurse, got a massage to manage muscle spasms and pain caused by fibromyalgia. But that was before the pandemic.

While some medical care has been able to pivot to telehealth, many patients haven’t received the hands-on treatments they rely on for conditions like chronic pain, headaches, or injuries.

For Strommen, that meant her fibromyalgia worsened. “Without these treatments, and with the added stress of the pandemic, my symptoms aren’t well controlled,” she says. “I’ve had to take muscle relaxers, which make me sleepy and makes it hard to work.”

Strommen’s massage therapist and other practitioners around the country are starting to see clients again. But the decision to go back to receive care isn’t simple. When is treating a health condition with hands-on therapy worth the risk?

It depends, says Irina Todorov, MD, an integrative medicine doctor at Cleveland Clinic. In general, even before the pandemic, she suggested people focus on nutrition, exercise, and getting ample sleep to treat the root cause of many health conditions, rather than relying only on hands-on therapy. Therapies like massage and acupuncture are “add-ons,” according to Todorov.

“I always stress to patients what you can do at home, versus seeking outside care,” she says. “Other therapies should be in addition to you taking care of yourself — self-care can improve your overall health and help manage symptoms.”

Wondering if you can and should resume hands-on therapy? We talked to practitioners to find out.

Physical therapy

Until it’s safe for all patients to come back for physical therapy, many providers are using a triage system to determine who needs to be seen in-person immediately and who can do therapy from home.

“We… are all working hard to take a look at patients and decide who is most necessary for an in-person visit because we don’t want to put people in a high-risk situation if waiting a few…

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Ashley Abramson
Elemental

Writer-mom hybrid. Health & psychology stories in NYT, WaPo, Allure, Real Simple, & more.