Medical Conditions & Massage Therapy – Universal Companies
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Medical Conditions & Massage Therapy

By Lori Vargas and Christine Clinton


Today in massage therapy practice, we are seeing an increasing number of clients presenting with medical conditions requiring some form of adaptation to position, pressure, and duration of treatment—more than ever before.

In this article, we will discuss three common medical conditions your clients may present with—cancer, Type-1 diabetes, and coronary heart disease—along with risks posed by treatment and medications.


Medical Condition: Cancer

There are 18.1 million cancer survivors in the U.S., according to The National Cancer Institute, which equates to 5.4% of the population. A little over 1.9 million Americans will receive a diagnosis of cancer in 2022. The top four cancers being diagnosed are of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon.

Each one of these potential guests will require a detailed consultation to address their specific needs in the treatment room.

In addition to side effects from such cancer treatments as chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries or immunotherapy, these clients may be on medications for many years afterward. Some of these drugs cause enduring bone pain, difficulty breathing or skin rashes,

For clients taking aromatase inhibitors or estrogen-blocking drugs, which are recommended for a minimum of five years, their risk factor for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or other circulation issues continues after their cancer treatment is complete. Additionally, the risk of lymphedema remains long after cancer treatment has been completed.

Sometimes clients tell us they had cancer many years ago and they are doing fine now, and they want a deep tissue massage or a hot stone massage. The reality is we cannot and should not offer those types of massages to clients who have had systemic treatment for cancer or had lymph nodes removed or radiated. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed since the initial diagnosis of cancer, the risk factor for blood clots and lymphedema remains, in addition to hypersensitivity to hot and cold.

It is our job to educate the client and make them aware of the need for safe, effective and adapted massage to address their pain, reduced range of motion, and sometimes lingering peripheral neuropathy. Therefore, as professional massage therapists, we need appropriate training to recognize that each client needs to be evaluated and a treatment plan agreed upon for our guests with compromised health.

Medical Condition: Diabetes

There are 37.3 million Americans living with Type 1 diabetes, which equates to 11.3% of the population. According to the National Diabetes Statistics report, there are also 96 million Americans aged 18 and older with prediabetes.

Many clients with Type 1 diabetes will present with heart disease, chronic kidney disease, obesity, and nerve damage in addition to hearing and vision impairment. Many will be taking medication for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or, often, anti-smoking drugs.

Together, these medications increase the risk of DVT, bleeding and bruising. Massage has been shown to help clients with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) by improving circulation, which, in turn, reduces the risk of foot ulcers and peripheral neuropathy.

Medical Condition: Coronary Heart Disease

According to the CDC, there are over 20.1 million Americans with coronary heart disease (CAD).

Such massage therapy clients may present with reduced mobility, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Clients taking statins may experience such side effects as muscle-and-joint pain, which can be helped by a massage using the appropriate pressure.

For clients who have had a heart attack or who are recovering from heart surgery, it is common to feel anxious, so having a massage may help the client to relax.

Stay Informed

Some studies have shown massage therapy can help reduce blood pressure and improve sleep. We are just starting to understand the importance of circadian health. So, improving sleep is a vital part of healing and recovery. Massage is part of the solution for many health conditions associated with our modern lifestyles.

Keeping up with research and learning new skills online or in the classroom is a must for being the best massage therapist you can be.

This article originally posted in November 2022 on the MASSAGE Magazine blog.

To learn how to adjust massages for clients with active cancer or with a history of cancer, enroll in Clinton Cancer Care Massage Therapy: Level 1. Available on the Universal Companies Learning Network, this online course allows you to learn at your own pace while earning 20 CEUs.

About the Authors

Christine Clinton is the founder of Christine Clinton Cancer Care, an education company specializing in teaching therapists how to work with clients living safely and effectively with cancer. She has over 32 years of experience in the spa and wellness sector and is certified in massage, skin care, reflexology, aromatherapy, lymphatic drainage, energy medicine and mind-body medicine.

Lori Vargas, founder of 360 Wellness Education, has over 20 years in the spa industry as a founder of multiple spas, a massage school, and as a spa consultant. She also has 14 years of experience guiding Fortune 500 Companies with corporate strategies and business development. Lori holds a CPA and MBA from the University of Chicago.

To complement her online 360 Wellness Education courses, Lori has created an educational community focused on connections and growth through 360 Wellness Education CORE Membership. This membership provides easy access to affordable on-demand advanced education, live webinars (sip & learn style), Facebook private group, newsletters, and live events. Follow on Instagram at @360WellnessEducation .

In addition to CORE Membership and her other online courses, Lori offers 360 Business Workshops. This live webinar series focuses on business start-up and development, sharing valuable insight, advice, and templates to jumpstart business growth and maximize success.


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