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What does 'Contraindications' in Massage Therapy and Aromatherapy Mean?

Updated: Apr 19

Exploring and understanding the term contraindicatons, its potential influence and safety considerations on holistic therapies such as massage and aromatherapy.

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Aromatherapy massage and holistic massage treatments are safe and effective ways to maintain overall health and well-being as they have huge benefits on our physiological and psychological states. However, there are medical conditions and instances when further precautions are necessary or therapy might be contraindicated.

Let's dive in.

What Does 'Contraindication' Mean?

A ‘contraindication’ is when a pre-existing medical condition may have a negative response to essential oils used in aromatherapy or massage therapy techniques.

A massage ‘indication’ on the other hand means a condition where it is reasonable to expect to see improvement directly related to massage therapy.

When there are specific risk factors present or when a risk factor outweighs the benefit of a treatment, then aromatherapy, massage therapy or any other type of bodywork should be avoided.

Individuals presenting with contraindications should avoid any type of massage or bodywork until their condition is resolved. It is possible that in some cases, massage therapy might still be provided but the treatment will have to be modified and adapted to compensate for the medical condition or massage could be avoided at a specific area of the body.

Contraindications in aromatherapy may prevent treatment altogether, restrict the appropriate methods of use or reduce the range of suitable oils.

Contraindications in massage therapy may prevent treatment altogether, restrict its use to certain parts of the body or require the treatment to be modified.

Below is a list of such instances or medical conditions, which would require a thorough consultation with a qualified Aromatherapist or Massage therapist and at times consent from your medical practitioner before starting aromatherapy or massage treatments or using essential oils topically or through inhalation.

List of Contraindications by Type and Category

Types of Contraindications

  • Acute medical conditions

  • Contagious conditions

  • High risk conditions

  • Skin conditions

  • Cancer

  • Infections

  • Inflammation

  • Certain medications

  • Under the influence

Categories of Contraindications

Total Contraindications

This is when pre-existing medical conditions make it inadvisable for treatment to be carried out. For example:

  • Fever, flu or colds (especially since Covid-19), or some other infection

  • Digestive complaints like vomiting, diarrhoea

  • Arthritis in the acute phase i.e rheumatoid arthritis

  • Kidney or liver conditions

  • Infectious skin conditions like shingles, impetigo, ringworm, scabies, head lice, cold sores, conjunctivitis - especially in the active phase

  • Infectious diseases like tuberculosis, scarlet fever, chicken pox, measles, mumps

  • If under the influence of drugs or alcohol that has been consumed at least 2 hours before treatment.

  • Damaged muscles or tissues like injuries to the ligament, tendon or muscle unless it's been 12 weeks or more since the injury

  • During pregnancy, especially in the first trimester - after which, massage therapy can only be performed by therapists with training and qualifications in pregnancy massage, midwives, doctors and therapists with medical training

  • Cancer patients receiving treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Once consent has been obtained by their medical practitioner oncology aromatherapy or massage treatments can only be carried out by therapists with training and qualifications in oncology massage and aromatherapy

Medical Contraindications

This is when consent is required from the client's GP or medical practitioner. For example:

  • Medical conditions like epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, blood clots (deep vein thrombosis), hypertension and hypotension (especially if unregulated)

  • HIV/Aids, if the client is undergoing treatment or if the client is suffering from an illness that's related to a compromised immune system

  • Postural deformities like scoliosis, lordosis, kyphosis require consent, unless the conditions are caused due to shortening of the muscles

  • Recent fractures or broken bones, where surgery was performed or it's been 12 weeks or less since the cast/plaster has been removed

Local Contraindications

This is when aromatherapy or holistic massage treatment cannot be performed in a specific body area. For example:

  • Cuts, abrasions and open wounds

  • Sprains, strains

  • Blisters, burns, sunburns

  • Bruises, hematoma

  • Viral and fungal diseases like verruca, athlete's foot, warts, nail infections, boils, folliculitis

  • Certain skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis

  • Soft tissue inflammation

  • Varicose veins

  • Phlebitis

  • Menstruation

  • Abdominal hernia

  • Undiagnosed lumps or masses

  • Areas with implanted device or medical treatment site like pacemakers, insulin pumps or injection sites

  • Accidents or operations - only if it's been 1 year or more since major or keyhole surgery, or 4 months or more for small scars

Please be advised that the above lists are by no means comprehensive and are provided as a guideline to help you. And as always, your health, well-being and safety is a priority, so consult with your medical practitioner, and/or a qualified massage therapist or aromatherapist before receiving any treatment.

If you have any questions or would like to have a chat about your health and wellness needs, please feel free to get in touch via the contact form on the website. I’ll be happy to assist and if required, we can schedule an online consultation to discuss your options before you book a treatment.

About the Author:

Juliana Rego, MFHT is a fully insured member of the Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT). She is a qualified Aromatherapist and Holistic Massage Therapist running her holistic therapy practice around South East London, Kent and North London.

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