Massage Therapy indicated for pain associated with social distancing
By Christie Frisch
May 8, 2021
Of all the changes ushered in when the pandemic struck last March, one I personally (and professionally!) struggled with perhaps most of all was the draconian denial of social proximity. Practicing massage therapy became a criminal offense. The orders to stay six feet apart emblazoned throughout all public places, the suspicion with which we treated each other while passing on the sidewalk, much less the dread we felt when a hug or handshake was clumsily offered our way. It all felt like such a denial of this fundamental part of our humanity, the innate need we all have for interaction, on a real and personal level, and yes—the need for physical contact.
Any basic psychology course teaches how contact with our first caregivers imparts on us a foundational sense of security we need to develop into healthy children and adults. Babies will fail to thrive and may die if deprived of touch early in life. But what about thereafter? What if you make it to adulthood and don’t have the company of another household member for weeks and months while being admonished to do your part and keep a safe distance from others at all times? How might that long-term self-sacrificing deprivation of physical contact, or some version of it, have affected and even traumatized a significant faction of Americans? We may never even begin to know.
As the tunnel vision for eliminating all behaviors that could potentially spread COVID slowly continues to ease, inquiries for massage appointments have again been populating my voice- and e-mail inboxes. Three weeks after receiving my second shot of the Pfizer vaccine, I donned my N95 mask and saw my first set of in-home clients—three (vaccinated) ladies over 70 who were enjoying a girls reunion weekend together for the first time since before lockdown. The emotions, tears and hugs were all free-flowing that morning and it got me thinking about massage therapy as an important tool for recovery following this year of forced distancing, and everything that has meant to each one us on a profoundly personal level.
After continuing to see more clients, many of whom had only recently emerged from various forms of isolation, it became clear to me that we have a long road to pandemic recovery ahead of us, on the most basic human level. The long-term erosion of our physical, comfortable ability to really be with our loved ones, trusted supporters, communities (and even strangers on the street!) has left its mark. Anxiety will continue to ebb and flow as we reassimilate into our lives, and as we do, reopen wounds and recall the pain of separation we have experienced, which will never be erased.
And here is where massage therapy comes in. Therapeutic touch. The antithesis of social distancing. The most ancient form of healing both physical and emotional, is now relevant in such a literal, poignant way, as perhaps it never has been before on this ubiquitous, species-wide level. Of course, massage therapy has never been for everyone, and neither will it be in this moment. You must bring an open mind and a willingness to engage with rather than avoid your feelings, among other things, in order to receive any benefit. But right now, there may be no better tool for examining, processing and eventually healing from this difficult phase of our collective and individual experience, which has included dismissal and denial of some of these deepest-wired elements that make us human. As I work through my own pandemic scars on these and other levels, I’ve felt no greater privilege than to offer this sacred, distanceless work to those who are seeking it out right now, owning the mutual vulnerability it brings up, but also and most especially, the hope.