Some clients wonder why they need to complete an intake form or have a consultation before they begin their session with a new therapist. They think, "What could the therapist possibly need to know about my medical conditions that would help them give me a better massage? I don't want to tell them I have X. That's embarrassing!" Well, take it from the therapist, the intake may actually be the most important part of a massage! The fact is that there are many medical conditions for which massage is contraindicated or needs to be given with care, and our knowledge of a client's medical conditions helps us customize the massage to exactly fit the needs of the client and keep them in optimal health while they are under our care. For instance, three such conditions of which massage therapists should be notified are high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer.
High blood pressure affects a large number of clients receiving massage because (surprise, surprise!) stress and high blood pressure often go hand in hand. It is important for a therapist to be aware of a client's high blood pressure because receiving a massage will actually temporarily raise the blood pressure even more. Surprised by this because you had always heard that massage lowers blood pressure? Well, think about it this way. If I have a balloon filled with water, and I put pressure on part of that balloon while I "massage" it, then the pressure within the balloon has increased until I cease applying pressure and it returns to its former state. Now, the nice thing is that the body will start to adjust to the higher pressure almost immediately, unlike the static and non-living balloon, by lowering the blood pressure so that by the time a therapist has finished the massage, the cessation of direct pressure and slew of "happy hormones" coursing through the body will result in a lower overall blood pressure. But, during the massage and especially at the beginning when blood pressure increases the most, the therapist needs to be aware of the presence of high blood pressure in the client so that they can start a little lighter on the pressure and so that they can respond properly in case the blood pressure presents a problem during the session.
The second example, diabetes, is a condition in which care needs to be used during the massage, especially if certain parts of the body, like the feet, have lost their sensation. If a client requests a treatment involving heat, such as a hot stone massage, the therapist may not be able to massage their feet due to concern that the client cannot effectively give feedback as to whether the stones are too hot for them. After all, it would be terrible for a client to receive a wonderful massage over the rest of their body only to discover that they have burns on a desensitized part that received too much heat! Giving the therapist input on this condition allows for a safe massage to occur.
And last but not least, cancer is a serious disease for which a person should be under a doctor's care, and a massage therapist will need the doctor's permission to be able to massage a client who is also a cancer patient. The reason for this? Massage helps improve circulation of blood and lymph throughout the body, which is great under normal circumstances. But with cancer thrown into the mix, it also means that any stray cancer cells that may have detached from a mass will be more easily spread to another part of the body, increasing the chances that cancer currently confined to one area of the body may metastasize to other parts. Obviously, neither the client nor the therapist wants that result, so it is important for a therapist to know whether or not cancer is a current issue. Another important note is that a therapist should preferably have some training in massaging cancer patients so that they know how to effectively and safely massage the client. There are several modalities out there that are specialized to cancer specifically or that don't involve physically manipulating the body (e.g. Caring Touch, Reiki, etc.), so just because you can't get a Swedish massage with your regular practitioner due to a cancer diagnosis, that doesn't mean that you have to give up massage entirely during the course of your treatment. Your current therapist may even know another therapist in the area who has the specific training needed to work on cancer patients.
Obviously, there are several conditions with which massage therapists have to use caution, and you never know which conditions those might be. For this reason, it is extremely important for clients to give a full and accurate intake, even if they don't think a condition has anything to do with the massage. It may not. But the nice thing is that the therapist can completely ignore that condition on the form and the information will be kept confidential. So please, for your sake, give your therapist as much information as you can about your medical conditions. After all, the therapist should be there to serve you, and they can only do so effectively if they know what they are working with.