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  • Explaining Your Massage Therapist’s Intake Forms

    woman filling out formsI’ve been a massage therapist for over 15 years now and in that time I’ve heard a fair amount of griping about “all the paperwork” that we ask you to fill out before your first massage with us. Let me assure you we don’t do it because we have some unnatural love of unnecessary paperwork. We hate paperwork as much as anyone else. The thing is, it’s necessary. Sometimes, it’s even required.

    It’s the Law

    Most states now license massage therapists. Many of those states spell out the information that must be in the client file. For instance, here are a few of the things required in the state of  Michigan where I’m licensed:

    • “The client’s full name, address, date of birth, gender, and other information sufficient to identify the client.”
    • “Information identifying any pre-existing conditions the client may have or verification that the client has no pre-existing conditions.”
    • “For massage therapy provided at a special event, a licensee shall maintain a client record…” (Yes, that means in order to get that 5 minute chair massage at the street fair, the therapist must ask you to fill out an intake form.)
      • A special event consists of a) A charitable, community, or sporting event; b) One-time events; or c) Massages performed at any location that are 20 minutes or less in duration
      • An abbreviated client record [required for massage at special events]… shall consist of, at a minimum, a completed intake form that contains all of the following information:
        • “The clients full name, date of birth, and an address or telephone number where the client can be contacted”
        • “Information identifying any pre-existing conditions the client may have or verification that the client has no pre-existing conditions.”

    Different states have different requirements and since I have my state’s regulations bookmarked I’m using them as my examples.


    Sometimes the law dictates what personal information we collect from you.

    Massage Affects Your Whole Body

    Aside from basic information about you, we also need to know about surgeries, allergies, and what medications and supplements you’re taking because:

    • Medications may have side effects that will affect how we massage you. For example, Coumadin is often prescribed after certain surgeries or to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. It also causes you to bruise easily, so we need to know you’re taking this so we don’t do a super deep massage and leave you bruised all over.
    • Medications may have painful side effects that massage can’t help. One common example is statin medication for high cholesterol. Statins are known to cause muscle pain, and massage will not be able to take away that pain.
    • Medications and supplements may interact with products we normally use. This may cause an adverse reaction or cause one or both to either lose effectiveness or be totally ineffective. Depending on the exact interaction, it could have catastrophic results.
    • Medications may affect your ability to give us accurate feedback. For instance, if you’re taking pain killers, you may not be able to feel if we are massaging too deep which could result in you being injured.
    • You may be allergic to a component in one of the products we use, but we won’t know unless you tell us what you’re allergic to. This includes food allergies and seasonal or outdoor allergies. Many products have things like ginger, citrus, and various plant based ingredients in them. And some essential oils, like chamomile, are related to common allergens, like ragweed.
    • Scars from injury or surgery in one area of your body can affect areas that don’t seem at all related.
    • Knowing what types of surgeries you’ve had, and what hardware’s been put into your body, allows us to make informed decisions as to which techniques we will or won’t use during your session.


    What affects one part of your body will likely affect another. Also, we don’t want to use products that contain ingredients you’re allergic to.

    We Don’t Want Your Contagious Condition (and You Don’t Want it to Spread)

    There are two types of contagious conditions I’m going to address today: skin conditions and respiratory infections. (I’m going to leave systemic or blood infections for another post.)

    If you have a contagious skin condition, like athletes foot or ringworm, and we massage over the contagious area, we run the very real risk of spreading the infection to other areas on your body and/or developing that condition ourselves. I’m sure you don’t want the condition to spread. I mean, isn’t one contagious spot enough? I’m also sure that we don’t want to contract the condition ourselves. You might imagine that that might make us a bit unhappy since we can’t work if we have a contagious skin condition on our hands or forearms or any other area we use to massage. If we can’t work, we don’t get paid. Plus we now have to go to the doctor to get the condition treated. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.

    If you have a contagious respiratory infection like a cold or the flu, you are not only going to most likely spread it to us (and everyone else you come into contact with) you also run the very real risk of making your own symptoms worse. Yes. For reals.

    Since you’re a considerate person, I know you won’t want anyone else to feel as lousy as you do when you’ve got a respiratory infection, so I won’t go on about that aspect. But, I’m equally certain that you don’t want to feel worse. So if  you can’t summon altruism as your driving factor to reschedule when you’re sick, use your selfishness and stay home, get lots of rest, and get better.


    If you have a contagious skin condition, you shouldn’t be turned away because of it; we can easily massage around it (unless it covers your entire body, but that brings up a whole other set of questions and issues).

    If you have a contagious respiratory infection, please reschedule your massage as soon as you know (or think) that you’ll still be contagious at your appointment time.

    Parting Thoughts

    So now that you understand why we ask some of the questions we do, please don’t raise a stink about the “invasive” questions or tell us you shouldn’t have to fill out all this paperwork since you’re “just getting a massage.” I guarantee you we don’t ask you to fill out these forms for our health. Well, maybe a little bit for our health (see above). Mostly, we ask for YOUR health. And because the law says we have to.