How to Say No to a Massage Client

One of the best parts of being a massage therapist is the moment a client walks in the door . You can see, you can just see on their face, how happy they are to be getting a massage. If all goes well, you do an intake and a few minutes later the client is breathing deeply, your hands are doing their thing and everyone is happy, right?

Except when other issues pop up. Maybe the client just filled out the intake form and you discover they had major abdominal surgery. Last week. Or a regular client comes in saying, “I’m a little feverish, but I’m sure it’s nothing!”

It’s hard to say, “No. I cannot give you a massage today.” It’s hard because we hate to disappoint people. It can be tough when we know we need the money. Or ego can get in the way and we think, “I know how to handle this issue and work safely,” even when we don’t.

Sometimes we don’t know when we should refuse to work on a client. Massage school is thorough, but it doesn’t cover the risks and benefits of massage in every health situation.

You need to have the right tools handy to determine safety. There are two books I recommend for this. Ruth Werner’s Massage Therapist's Guide to Pathology should be on every therapists desk. It’s thorough, easy to understand, and clearly lays out the benefits and risks of massage for any particular ailment. Likewise, Tracy Walton’s Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy, A Decision Tree Approach gives you tools to assess most common medical conditions and determine safety and make adjustments according to the individual.

It is okay to say, “Alright, I want to take a moment to look this up and be sure I can work on you safely. Have a seat, I’ll be right back.” Clients will respect you for being cautious. (If they don’t, they’re not the kind of client you want long-term, anyhow.)

So what if, after all that, you determine you cannot give a massage? It’s very hard to refuse a client, and that’s why it’s so important to be ready with a script.

I’m so sorry, I can’t give you a massage today. I’m concerned that massage could cause you harm. Let’s get you rescheduled for after you’ve seen the doctor for your follow-up.

I’m so sorry. It’s not wise to work on someone when they have a fever and flu symptoms. We can’t be certain what’s going on, and I don’t want to make you more sick.

I appreciate that you want a massage today, but it’s not a good idea when your sick and also, I cannot risk being exposed to what you’re carrying.

This medical condition is complex. I do not have the training to determine if massage is safe for you right now. I’ll need to do some research to figure this out and check in with your physician to see if we need to make adjustments to be sure massage is safe.

Here’s my personal favorite, on the rare occasion that a client becomes angry or insistent.

Listen, you can make a few phone calls and find a massage therapist that will work on you even though it’s potentially dangerous. And maybe you’ll be fine, or maybe you’ll get injured. I am not willing to take that risk, and you should be wary of any massage therapist that is. The alternative is that you can wait, I can look into this to see if I can work on you safely. If I can’t, I’ll try to find a therapist with advanced training who can.

Yes, it’s tough to stick to your guns and refuse to massage a client. Yes, people may be angry with you. But it’s much easier than a lawsuit. And much easier than trying to sleep at night after you harmed someone.

Logo for Happyface
Logo for ABMP
Logo for Jojoba
Logo for Pure Pro Massage Products