Stress knots have taken up permanent residence in my shoulders, where they are joined by tension headaches, back pain, and an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I know I'm not alone, and t's safe to say the COVID-19 pandemic has increased my anxiety, while simultaneously lessening the outlets I have to relieve that anxiety. Enter: massages. I freaking love getting a massage to relieve stress and treat muscle knots. But, even if a relaxing massage is an option in your state, we couldn't help but wonder whether it's safe to get one right now. POPSUGAR spoke with three experts to get their opinion on how to safely get a massage while the pandemic is still going on — and whether you should at all.
Is it safe to get a massage right now?
With the exception of massage therapy for physical health problems (i.e., not for just relieving stress or to relax), massages are just not worth the risk right now, no matter how tempting they sound.
Diane Hsu, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, says getting a massage is not something she feels comfortable with at the moment. "I personally love massages, but I feel it's not worth the risk right now," she said. Dr. Hsu explained that many areas in the U.S. have begun to experience a rise in COVID-19 cases and ICU admissions, which makes her wary of getting a massage. "My concern with massages is that they're usually done in a private room with the windows closed — so the ventilation is definitely not the same level as outdoor dining," she said. Dr. Hsu added that she wouldn't feel totally comfortable being in close quarters with another person and having to wear a mask the entire time, and if you can't relax, what's the point of a massage?
Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, professor of public health for New Mexico State University, said his first response to getting a massage is a "big NO," adding that "people should not think about getting massages right now."
Additionally, Ceppie Merry, FRCPI, PhD from Ireland, who holds a fellowship in infectious disease at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, is usually a major fan of therapeutic massage, so she has personally really struggled during this time. "My concerns relate to the fact that massage involves close and prolonged personal contact and often takes place in warm, cosy, poorly-ventilated rooms," she said. "Given this perfect storm, I have elected to avoid massage treatments for now."
What precautions should massage parlors take to be safer?
Even though doctors are currently advising against getting elective massages, there are many massage parlors in the country that are open. Every state and city has different rules and regulations governing the reopening of these businesses so, as always, you should follow your local authority's advice. The experts I spoke to also recommended doing some research prior to getting a massage to make sure the salon is following the correct infection control advice and following upgraded safety measures. "The therapists are in close contact with clients; therefore, they should really be practicing the same precautions as healthcare workers," explained Dr. Hsu.
Donna Casey, MD, internist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, explained that laws vary by state and locality on reopening and sanitation procedures, so you should always do your own research before getting a massage. Dr. Casey added that if you are in any way immunocompromised or at an increased risk of being affected by COVID-19, the advice is simple: "do not get a massage."
"Make sure you feel comfortable that [the parlors] are clean and following good infectious disease rules," Dr. Casey said. "Ideally, you and the masseuse should be wearing a face mask/covering and have your eyes shielded from respiratory droplets. The masseuse should also wear PPE, such as gloves and a disposable gown. There should also be good ventilation outdoors, or if indoors, with HEPA filters. All surfaces should be well-cleaned between clients, and there should be six feet of safe distancing, plus time between clients. The massage area should have time between clients to 'calm down' from respiratory droplets, about 20 minutes."
Dr. Khubchandani suggests looking at the community spread in your area; if it is low, then you can think about getting a massage. "Unfortunately, there is a spike of COVID-19 cases in the majority of the states across the nation," he said. Some things you should research or ask before getting a massage, according to Dr. Khubchandani, include: is this massage parlor following state and local guidelines? Do employees have PPE? Are employees screened for illness? What cleaning and disinfection processes are in place? What is the booking and appointment system?
"If you decide to go," Dr. Khubchandani said, "make sure you are not sick, ensure that you are fully covered while making the visit, wear a double- or triple-layer mask, and cover your eyes with glasses. If you can wear a cap or head covering, that would also help, and avoid touching your face from the moment you arrive at the salon till you reach home, then change clothes and take a shower as soon as you reach home, and keep a sanitizer in your pocket to use at any time." He also mentioned that you can always ask for special precautions or advice from your therapist on safety.
What could I do instead to relieve stress?
Self-care is important, but not at the expense of your health. While it may be tempting to go and get a massage (especially in these times of increased stress), there are many factors that make it especially risky right now. Fortunately, there are plenty of other options to relive stress and get that much-needed rest. "Even the American Massage Therapy Association advises that there is a risk for infection, and no one is safe," said Dr. Khubchandani. "People are getting frustrated and depressed, working from home may cause back and neck pains, and massages can elevate mood or refresh people. But you have to weigh the benefits and risks."
Dr. Khubchandani is personally opting for massage chairs to help relieve his stress, while Dr. Merry recommends limiting visits to the masseuse to a back massage "so that I would be facing the opposite direction from the masked therapist." Dr. Casey encourages people to settle for a long foot massage instead of a full-body massage and said, "many healthy people [with COVID-19] do not even display symptoms; what if you brought the virus home to your grandmother or little brother, who has severe asthma?"
Some things — no matter how great the reward — are just not worth the risk. Blame your tense shoulders on 2020 and find a way to pamper yourself another way, like with wine and a bubble bath or by watching a good movie. Just think how great that massage will feel when it's finally safe to get one again.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.