Massage and Special Needs Clients

massage for special needs individuals

Although a large portion of the clients who come in for a massage are in good health and simply in search of a little relaxation, this isn’t always the case. After all, massage therapy is based in the healing arts, which means that people seek this kind of treatment when other health avenues have failed or as part of a larger wellness package.

Although you should never provide services for a health condition you haven’t trained for (or are certified in) through an accredited massage school, working with special health issues and clients can be very rewarding work.

 What are Special Needs?

In the massage industry, special needs can be anything from pregnancy to physical impairments (like mobility issues or deafness). In the case of pregnancy, there are specific massage modalities that can be learned so that providing this type of massage is a matter of course.

In the case of something like a wheel-chair bound client or one with hearing issues, you will need to make accommodations. And because a lot of these types of issues aren’t disclosed until after the client arrives for the massage, you often have to make those accommodations fast.

 What Can You Do?

The most important issues related to special needs in massage are client health, comfort, and safety—and almost all of these can be addressed ahead of time through good communication. While you are the trained professional in this scenario, the individual with the special need has probably been living with it for quite some time, and is aware of what works best for him or her in this situation.

For example, if a client comes in with a wheelchair, ask if he or she is better accommodated in a massage chair, or if it might be necessary to select one position (supine or prone) and stick with it for the duration of the massage.

(Your safety matters here, too, and if you can’t help the client to the table on your own, don’t strain your back. Ask for help.) If a client has a hearing impairment, either find a way to communicate the normal talking points, or have pen and paper on hand.

Some special needs are a little more intense than these ones, from a history of seizures to cancer or other terminal diagnoses. Mental illnesses might also be a factor, especially since there is such a strong emotional component to the act of massage.

In these cases, its best to be upfront about your range of skills. If you aren’t comfortable accommodating a certain illness because of your lack of expertise in that area, make it known up front.

You can also continually expand your massage training to learn more and open your doors to different types of clients. Go back to school, take courses in specialized massage, purchase additional equipment that can be used to accommodate special needs—the harder you work to make yourself an option for those in need, the more successful your massage practice is going to be.

For more information on your rights and responsibilities related to working with special needs clients, visit the Americans with Disabilities Act at




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