What is the Importance of Knowing the Contraindications to Massage?

Massage therapist helping a client with contraindications

Massage is a non-invasive way for clients to relax and reduce pain. Though massage is safe for most people, there are situations when massage should not be used on a client because of a pre-existing condition or during the use of specific medications.

What are Contraindications?

A contraindication is when a symptom or condition can cause a negative outcome because of a specific medication, surgery or procedure. There are two types of contraindications, relative and absolute.

Relative contraindications give practitioners caution when either two medications can conflict or a procedure like massage can exacerbate a condition that a client is currently taking medication for or underwent surgery for. They may interfere in some way, but it is not life-threatening.

Absolute contraindications are those situations that are life-threatening, like massage in specific parts of the body that just underwent a surgical procedure, must be avoided. An example of this is when women are pregnant, they can suffer from blood clots in their legs. It is an absolute contraindication for a massage therapist to not massage the legs so that any blood clots are not dislodged and end up in a vital organ.

What are Contraindications for Massage?

It is important for a massage therapist to inquire about a client’s health condition during the initial assessment and at the beginning of each session. Although massage therapy is safe, it can exacerbate some conditions. Don’t book an appointment for a client if they have a fever, contagious disease, are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, had a recent operation, or are suffering from a skin disease. A client should always consult a physician before beginning any massage therapy or if the client has any new conditions that could be contraindications for massage.

Fever – if the client has an abnormal temperature, massage may increase it. Whether it is from a vaccination or flu, a raised temperature will indicate the body is saying that something is wrong, and the massage therapist shouldn’t exacerbate the situation.

Contagious Disease – we are all living with the Covid-19 pandemic, so we are acutely aware of the dangers of a contagious disease. It is important to take precautions before a massage treatment to make sure everyone is safe and that no one will catch a contagious disease.

Drug or Alcohol – someone under the influence may not experience the massage the same, their body may react differently, the pain threshold may be diminished, and they may make poor decisions. It is important to make sure that the client is not inebriated in anyway, as they must give consent to participate in a massage treatment.

Recent Surgery – if a client has recently undergone treatment or surgery, massage can exacerbate the injury or location that is trying to heal. Massage can tear stitches or aggravate a part of the body has undergone surgery. Always have the client consult their doctor before engaging in massage.

Skin Diseases – when you perform massage on a client and they have a skin disease, it can inflame the skin, cause abrasions or bruise areas of the skin. Many people that have skin disorders will also use some sort of ointment and this can be a contraindicator for massage, especially if you use essential oils.

There are specific areas of the body that may also suffer from conditions that can be contraindications for massage. If a client has varicose veins, lumps, excessive bruising, has cuts or abrasions, is sunburned, has undiagnosed pain or has any inflammation from conditions like arthritis. In addition, a massage therapist should not use specific massage techniques on women that are pregnant. You will learn prenatal massage techniques that are suitable for mothers-to-be during a massage therapy program at a vocational school. Again, it is important for anyone that is suffering from any condition to consult a physician before engaging in massage therapy.

There are also some medical contraindications that a massage therapist should have a client get a physician’s approval before attempting massage. Important medical contraindications include cardio-vascular conditions, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and pinched nerves, to name a few.

What is the Importance of Knowing the Contraindications to Massage?

All massage therapists will need to know the contraindications to massage to create a safe environment for their clients. This is not only tested on the licensing exam, but it is important to know as much as possible about a client’s health and any conditions they may have that can cause them distress or even be life-threatening. Take the time to fully understand what the client’s health history looks like and ask all the important questions before you create a massage treatment plan for them.

How Do You Identify Contraindications to Massage?

The best time to inquire about a client’s health is during an initial assessment and before each session for any updates to their health regimen, medications or surgical procedures they may have undergone since the last session.

Initial Assessment

During an initial massage therapy assessment, it is good to get a full health history from your client, any medications that may be contraindications and the client’s chief concern. You will also want to know where a client is experiencing pain and any place on their body they don’t want you to massage.

This is also the time to explain the risks, side effects and other information to give the client expectations for what they are getting into. During the risks and side effects, it is a good time to talk about situations that may cause complications and have them explain any health history that might suggest a specific massage technique. Each massage technique is unique and the information from the initial assessment will allow you to come up with a treatment plan with the right mix of techniques. Does the client need deep tissue massage to really work out tension in the muscles or something lighter that doesn’t cause too much pain? Do they have any allergies to latex or any other substances? Learn as much as you can during the initial assessment so you can create a best possible plan for the client.

Pre-Session Questionnaire

At the beginning of every new massage session, it is important for you to see if anything has changed with the client. Did they start any new medications, have any procedures or new aches and pains they need to focus on this session? Create a questionnaire that they fill out and include authorization forms that they need to sign. Make sure to be through about your pre-session questionnaire because the client may know something that they just forgot to share or don’t think it is relevant in this situation. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Confidentiality and Discretion

It is important for you to keep all the information a client tells you confidential and to show discretion about personal topics. The client may tell you very confidential and personal information about themselves and their medical history, that they wouldn’t want you to tell anyone else. A medical professional is bound by HIPAA guidelines to keep all medical information confidential. It is a good guideline for massage therapist to adhere to as well.

You also want to show discretion with a client. They may confide in you about a condition that they have, so don’t ask them questions that you may think are too personal. Also, don’t make comments or off the cuff remarks about something that the client may feel sensitive about. This is an easy way to lose a client. They trust you with very personal information and they expect you to show discretion.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a massage therapist is a great way to help people with a non-invasive and natural therapy. Being a massage therapist is very rewarding, especially when you see your patients experience less stress and pain. It is important to complete a massage therapy program so that you know all the benefits and contraindications that can affect a client during a massage treatment. Keep your clients safe and you will create a loyal following.

Want to Learn More?

Did learning about helping keep clients safe from contraindications in massage interest you? If you are interested in the healing powers of massage, you can begin your career in massage therapy at Minnesota School of Cosmetology. Our short-term massage therapy training program is designed as a holistic program that will prepare students to focus on body mechanics of their clients as well as develop positive habits for the therapist. Together, those two areas will provide a foundation that can lead to longevity in the career field.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a massage therapist and starting a rewarding career in the massage industry.

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