I'm Unwell, Should I Cancel My Massage?

After a beautiful summer that was actually a summer, we are now truly into autumn with all that entails. Falling leaves, wind, rain, coughs, colds and all those lovely lurgies which have waited in the wings for the weather to turn! On very rare occasions, this actually coincides with a time when we can batten down the hatches, curl up under a blanket or in bed, sip on soup and sleep. As I say, very rare occasions! Mostly, we actually feel we should just keep going.

If you have a massage booked, that’s ok isn’t it? It’ll make you feel better, surely? Well actually, you really do need to consider letting us know, as it might be best to cancel. Some clients have even called to ask, "I'm unwell, should I cancel my massage appointment?"

I know, you’ve been really looking forward to it, or you are desperately overdue, and booked really early to secure that evening appointment with your favourite practitioner, but let us just clarify a few things. First, I beg your indulgence …

Role Reversal

The time has come for your appointment, but as your practitioner greets you they sneeze. You are suddenly aware that their eyes are slightly puffy, they are trying not to cough, and generally look less than 100%. It doesn’t matter how much you like your practitioner and were looking forward to your massage, your heart sinks.

Add into the mix being in a room with your practitioner for the duration of your appointment and the chances of you getting the same bug are really rather high. It’s rather like sitting on the bus and having someone behind you sneeze … you know that in most cases it’s just a matter of time until you are in the same way.

Recent history

Earlier this year, (& coincidently last weekend, after I'd written this article!) I came down with the lurgy. I didn’t feel very well and made the difficult decision to contact all my clients across two days and reschedule their appointments. Whilst I wasn’t well and didn’t feel ‘right’ by any stretch of the imagination, I wasn’t coughing up gunk, my tummy was fine, and after the first 24 hours I reckoned I was no longer contagious. My other half, on the other hand, had full blown flu … the sweats, the productive cough, constantly feeling the wrong temperature. He most definitely was contagious.

I know where this lurgy came from. One of the boy’s colleagues went to work really very ill. This guy was valiant. He KNEW work were depending on him going in ... but when they started dropping like flies, such a 'self-less' act didn't seem such a sensible idea! I could have decided to do the same thing after 24 hours. I could have un-cancelled my clients or reopened up my diary, and earned the money lost. But that’s not me. I wasn’t right and I don’t like giving less than 100% at each appointment. The thought of potentially being a carrier for whatever the boy had and passing that on to someone else? Not something I was willing to do, and certainly not to some of my clients who have compromised immune systems.

Spreading the lurgy

So when we open the door and invite you in to our practice room only to discover that you’ve being feeling unwell for a few days, we suffer with the same heart sink, no matter how much we like you! Some professions make it possible for people who are unwell to continue to work whilst feeling unwell (even if it’s ill-advised – see above!). Unfortunately, massage therapy isn’t one of these.


When we are feeling crumby, and haven't got much fuel in the tank, it makes it very difficult for us to give our clients the very best of ourselves. Which means that if we get ill, we have to cancel our appointments with our clients for at least a few days. Not only so that we can give them the standard of care we pride ourselves on, but so that we don’t risk exposing our clients to whatever lurgy we’ve picked up, particularly those with compromised immune systems.

“It is not generally recommended to massage a person with an infectious airborne condition that you could catch yourself … “There are conditions that are infections, and could be transmitted to the practitioner … these total contraindications are to protect the practitioner … from catching infection.” Fox (2005) p. 33

Let your body rest

It doesn’t matter how relaxed you feel after a massage, even the most nurturing touch will stimulate at least some of your body’s systems – most usually the circulatory and lymphatic systems. I’m not talking ‘rev up’ stimulate, rather a ‘gently coax into operation’. One of my mentors, David Lauterstein talks about massage stimulating the nervous system:

“If you touch the tissues in a manner that causes the nervous system to relax and energy to flow, you will have the optimum therapeutic benefit” ~ David Lauterstein

Because massage gets things moving (ever had your stomach rumble whilst on the massage table?!), if you have a cold, lying with your face in a face cradle is NOT going to be a relaxing experience because despite the practitioner’s best efforts, you are likely to get even more bunged up. When you have an infection, be it bacterial or viral, your body is already in hyper drive working to defend your systems against the invading forces. It is highly ill advised to further compromise your body’s natural intelligence by adding another stimulus into the mix, be it alcohol, caffeine, exercise or massage. Don’t get me wrong, once your body is over the actual fight, and is just in the recovery phase then both massage and light, gentle exercise is ok.

Our guidelines

I’m a member of the Massage Training Institute (MTI) and am currently serving as the Regional Representative for the West Country region. In thinking about this article, I went back to the MTI’s Code of Ethics, and found a few salient points:

  • Practitioners must ensure they are competent to give massage in the best interests of the client. If this is not possible, through ill health - mentally or physically - the practitioner should refrain from practising i.e. if I’m ill

  • Practitioners must be aware of contra-indications to massage and have a responsibility to ask clients about any medical treatment and medication, and to be able to consult the GP, if appropriate i.e. if you’re ill

What we might not welcome

I won’t bore you with all the illnesses, conditions and diseases where there is a total or local contraindication (i.e. don’t go there), but suffice to say our lending library has at least one book dedicated to that subject! However, I beg your indulgence in quoting a couple of sections. Firstly about the common cold:

“The cold virus is infections, and you are at risk if you massage someone with a cold, but you are just as much at risk if you travel on public transport, go to the cinema or come into contact with lots of people. “Vigorous massage that speeds up circulation is inadvisable, but apart from that the decision is yours and your client’s.” Fox (2005) p. 85

So in theory, colds are ‘ok’ but we may have to have a conversation about it since it is infectious and massage therapists have a duty of care to all our clients. However, when it comes to influenza

“This is contraindicated during the first few days, and probably someone with flu wouldn’t want a massage anyway. After that time the recommendations are the same as for a cold, but be aware that the flu virus hangs around in the body for several days after the symptoms have gone, and the person is still infectious.” Fox (2005) p. 85

So from reading these recommendations, and using common sense … if you wake up the day before your massage appointment feeling ill, it really is best to get in touch and let us know. Be aware that if you are in the first few days of having a runny nose, sinus infection, have a fever and believe you have a bad cold or flu, it is probably best if we postpone your appointment.

Please be honest with us, we aren’t trying to be difficult or get an hour off. We really have a duty of care to provide you with the most appropriate care possible, and the same applies to all our clients. We will do our very best to reschedule your appointment as soon as possible. After all, we are coming into the season of cancellations and your cancellation will be somebody else’s ideal appointment!

Cancellation Policy

What about if you wake up on the morning of your appointment feeling suddenly rough? After all, we do operate a 24 hour cancellation policy as part of our Booking Ts & Cs.

“A minimum of 24 hours notice must be given to cancel an appointment. Failure to attend an appointment with less than 24 hours notice of cancellation will incur the charge for the full appointment.”

Contact your practitioner as soon as possible (email is probably best for this) or do call Victoria to let us know. We will likely cancel the appointment and will review each instance on a case by case basis. But please, please don’t just turn up, tissues in hand. We might send you straight back home again.

Back into the swing

Once the worst of your lurgy is over, the fever has died down, you are starting to see the wood for the trees and you believe you will feel human again, then we can talk. In fact, because massage therapy does stimulate the systems of the body, including the immune system, and it may even help to boost it into action, help to restore that energy you felt drain away as you lay on the sofa. After all, your body has just done a brilliant job of fending off the invading virus, what a lovely way to reward it and say thank you by continuing to provide nurturing care with a massage!

Post Script

If any of our practitioners do telephone you to cancel their appointment with you because they are not feeling very well, please do know that we will do our best to reschedule you with another member of our team, or fit you into the original practitioner’s diary as soon as possible. However, please also note that we may take a few gentle days to get back up to speed so that we know we are fully recovered. We do love what we do, we hate cancelling and letting our clients down, but sometimes we do need to put ourselves first.

Su Fox, Practical Pathology for the Massage Therapist (2005)