Contraindications in Bodywork?

Ask a Therapist

By Ruth Werner

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2004.

Q. Is the realm of bodywork for everyone? Or are there contraindications?

A. The term “bodywork” covers a lot of possibilities, according to Utah massage therapist and pathology expert Ruth Werner. “One way to evaluate the appropriateness of massage is to ask the question, ‘Does this fit within the physical stresses of regular daily living?’ Swedish or circulatory types of massage mechanically push blood and lymph, stretch muscles, and mobilize joints. If a person can exercise safely, it is reasonable to expect that he can also receive Swedish massage safely.

“Some people, however, are not good candidates for Swedish massage. Conditions that interfere with how fluids move through the body — heart disease, kidney, or liver problems, for instance — may require non-circulatory approaches to bodywork. Fortunately, many modalities work to achieve relaxation and an improved state of health, but do not emphasize fluid flow.

“One situation that contraindicates any kind of bodywork is a contagious condition that can be spread through casual or skin-to-skin contact. This includes systemic infections like cold or flu, or local skin conditions like ringworm. This is for the protection of the therapist, of course, but also for the client, whose body needs to focus on dealing with the infectious agent.

“If there are any doubts about whether massage is a safe choice, it is a good idea to consult the client’s primary care physician. However, not all doctors are familiar with many types of bodywork, and a doctor’s ‘OK’ doesn’t guarantee safety. Ultimately, it’s up to the therapist and client together to design a session that will maximize the benefits of massage while minimizing the risks.”