Reminiscing about what we miss from the pre-pandemic days is basically a national pastime at this point. Here’s my newest contribution: massages. Maybe I’m experiencing skin hunger; maybe I’m ready to be rid of six months of COVID-related tension that’s accumulated almost entirely in my shoulders; maybe I just want to be somewhere other than my living room for a while. Regardless, I’d love a massage. But is it safe? I asked Nate Favini, MD, medical lead of Forward, the preventive primary care practice — even though I suspected I already knew what he’d say.
For the record, I was right. “Massages are non-essential, so I don’t recommend getting one during this time,” Dr. Favini says, dashing my dreams right off the bat. He would happily stop there — when I ask what people should know if they do book an appointment, he answers only on the condition that I emphasize that his “strong recommendation is to avoid getting a massage.”
Still: Some people use the practice to help them cope with serious pain conditions or injuries. If you must get a massage, covering your face is not optional, Dr. Favini tells Refinery29. Wear a face mask, and insist that the masseuse does too.
Besides that critical piece of protection, you can also call the studio or spa you’re visiting to ask about how they’re sanitizing the room between appointments, and what other health precautions they’re taking. “If a massage studio did regular testing of their workers every three to five days that would be reassuring — though it does not eliminate the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” Dr. Favini says. You could also ask the therapist to open any windows that are in the room, and make sure they wash their hands before massaging you.
But at the end of the day, Dr. Favini says, “If you’re going to a massage parlor where people will be in close proximity to you, there is a meaningful risk of catching COVID-19. Personally, I’m avoiding massages until the pandemic is over.”
Because of that, before getting an in-person massage, he recommends asking your partner or someone you’re quarantining with for a rub-down, or splurging on a massage chair or device.
I can get behind that idea. There are many products out there that are designed to work out knots, relieve stress, and promote recovery. Case in point: The acupuncture studio WTHN just released a brand-new acupressure mat set, which makes easing aches and erasing stress as easy as lying down. Massage guns like Theragun and Hypervolt are a little on the pricey side, but you can find some solid sales — and they really work. Wildling recently started selling Aura, a gua sha-esque tool for the body that's meant to stimulate lymph flow and break up tension in the muscles. Oofos is a footwear brand that sells sandals that absorb more impact than other shoes to soothe back, leg, and foot pain. Heck, I've used a golf ball to roll out stubborn knots before.
The point is, there are plenty of at-home options to try before taking the potentially dangerous step of visiting a spa again. As Paul Pottinger, MD, director of the Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine Clinic at the UW Medical Center, told Refinery29 in a recent interview: “We could really break the back of [coronavirus] within six weeks, it just requires everyone to do it." So if you can, delay that massage a little while longer — it’s worth it in the long run.