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Is It Possible to Receive a Massage While Ill?

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

My acquaintance Katie and I embarked on a journey to Scottsdale, Arizona, for a girls’ trip. Among the activities we were most excited about during our extended weekend was a peaceful afternoon at the spa. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned when Katie came down with an unpleasant cold a few days prior. Consequently, when we arrived at VH Spa at Hotel Valley Ho for our appointments, the therapist took one glance at Katie and recommended that she cancel her treatment for the day.

Initially disappointing, this situation brought to our attention something that neither Katie (who works as a nurse) nor I had previously considered: receiving a massage while sick is not advisable, a fact confirmed by medical professionals.

“Although it may be tempting to seek out activities that provide comfort when you’re unwell, the definite answer is to completely refrain from getting a massage—or any other personal care treatments (such as visiting a hair salon, nail salon, or physical therapy)—when you’re sick,” says Dr. Maya Heinert, a pediatric emergency medicine physician based in Sacramento, California, and a spokesperson for RxSaver.


Reasons to Avoid Getting a Massage When You’re Sick

There are two primary reasons for this. Firstly, it is not beneficial for either yourself or your service provider. Dr. Heinert explains that when you’re sick, getting a massage can potentially impede the usual healing process of your body. Your body is already putting up a fight against the illness, utilizing various components such as your major organs, circulatory system, and lymphatic system. When you receive a massage, your body experiences pressure, heat, and movement, which together may hinder your body’s ability to combat the infection and facilitate the removal of waste through the lymphatic channels and gut. Additionally, your body tends to be more sensitive to touch when you’re sick, making the experience potentially painful. Furthermore, lying face-down for an extended period of time can worsen any congestion you may be experiencing.

But what if you’re on the road to recovery, as Katie believed she was? Unfortunately, according to Dr. Heinert, getting a massage is still not advisable. You need to give your body ample time to fully recuperate before considering booking an appointment. “If you had fractured your ankle, you wouldn’t return to the gym to work out as soon as the immediate pain subsided; instead, you would gradually allow your body to regain strength and reach its baseline status,” she explains. The same principle applies when dealing with a viral infection.

How Long Should You Wait to Get a Massage Once You’re Better?

Most prevalent upper respiratory viral infections complete their course in a few days to two weeks, and many individuals feel improved during that period and are likely no longer contagious, according to Dr. Heinert. This implies that if you feel fine, it has been five or more days, and you have no symptoms, you can schedule that massage. However, if you still have lingering symptoms such as expelling mucus through coughing, which can sometimes persist for weeks, wait until it subsides before rescheduling your massage for the well-being of others and your own health, she adds.

Regarding bacterial infections, the timing of when you can return for a massage depends on the specific condition you were dealing with, as it greatly affects the potential for transmission. For instance, if you had a UTI that resolved after taking antibiotics, there is no issue with getting a massage. However, if you had a respiratory infection, for instance, it is impossible to accurately determine when you are no longer contagious. Therefore, you should avoid close contact with others, including the massage table, as long as you are still on antibiotics, according to Dr. Heinert.

Issues Connected with Receiving a Massage When You’re Ill

Getting a massage when you are sick can also trigger inflammation, particularly if a therapist uses a technique called friction to break up adhered tissue, also known as knots. “While this is beneficial for relieving tight, painful muscles, when you are sick, you should not induce any further inflammation,” explains Kristy Zadrozny, a licensed massage therapist and certified labor doula based in New York City. Your body is already engaged in battling external pathogens, which themselves can cause inflammation throughout the body when you are sick, so you should not add fuel to that fire. “That is why we consume easily digestible, nourishing foods and stay hydrated when we are sick; the objective is to enhance our immune system, not burden it with more tasks,” clarifies Zadrozny.

The same applies when you feel like you are on the brink of falling ill. If you receive a massage when you suspect you may be coming down with a cold, it is more likely that you will become sick faster because the massage can spread the pathogens throughout your lymph nodes, says Zadrozny. Once again, your immune system is already exerting significant effort to fend off an illness that is attempting to invade, so it is better to let it rest instead of burdening it with more tasks, she adds.

Putting the Massage Therapist at Risk

Still unsure about whether you should schedule (or cancel) that massage appointment that your tight hamstrings desperately need? It all comes down to a simple, albeit perhaps disappointing, rule: When you are ill, you should cancel your personal care appointments. “Engaging the services of a masseuse or any other care provider when you are sick is simply thoughtless,” says Dr. Heinert.

Heinert. Frequently, “you cannot fully understand when you are infectious or not, and being in a public location and allowing individuals to inhale your expired air is possibly exposing them.”

Pamper Yourself Once You’re Well Again

Once you have fully recovered and feel like your healthy self again, go ahead and reschedule that massage and indulge in a little self-care (or perhaps even a CBD massage). In general, massages are beneficial in enhancing your immune system and aiding in lymphatic flow and drainage, explains Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., a double-certified family medicine physician in Atlanta. And yes, you can receive a massage even if you’re extremely sore from a workout.

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