Working within Their Abilities

By Jenna Gouskos

Not everyone is comfortable around those with physical or mental disabilities, let alone do bodywork on them. Those with disabilities in some cases, are the ones who need bodywork more than anyone. But I say being confined to a chair or having a physical impairment that has their body permanently in a bad postural position makes their need for bodywork absolute.
Someone labeled with having a disability may display physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, and developmental or a combination of some of these. Sometimes these cases were discovered at birth and other times these ailments were caused by an accident of some sort.

1.)  Interview

It is important as a massage therapist to know how the disability was acquired before working on them. It is also important to learn as much about their disability before you have your initial interview with them. The more you know and learn about their specific limitations, the better you can provide care and the more comfortable you will feel around them.  They are looking to you for support you can’t give it if you don’t have a complete understanding of their situation.

2.)  Work ahead

Depending on which specific disability a client may possess, the massage therapist should try to make all of the accommodations for the client ahead of time and during the massage. It is important to understand that this may be much more uncomfortable for them than it is for you, so being highly helpful and attentive to their needs is an advantage.

3.)  Educate yourself

Whether you plan to work with those with disabilities or not, it is inevitable that you will eventually have to at some point in your career. It is a good idea to do your own research about some common disabilities beforehand.

4.)  Take a class

Get comfortable with how a massage session may play out before having the client just appears one day. There are many websites and CEU’s available to you that provide detailed information on different disabilities and even the possible medications they may be on. It will help you and it will help them if you are prepared and welcoming to their needs.   One of my favorite online sites that is making great strides in providing online access to massage education is Ben Benjamin.  There are some real practical ways to help understand working with those dealing with a wide range on conditions.

Don’t be scared.  Do your research.  Get yourself educated and please continue to heal the world!

If you are interested in working with individuals with disabilities, here are some good organizations to look into. Center - For Individuals with physical challenges


Tell us the scariest condition or problem you ever had to massage.  What did you do?????

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29 thoughts on “Working within Their Abilities”

  1. I wouldn’t say it was scary, maybe just a bit delicate….. I had to massage a client who had been mugged two weeks prior to their massage appointment. She had been dealing with quite a bit of anxiety. Everything turned out fine. She had no observable emotional releases etc. I felt a little differently toward this client because of what she had been through.

  2. I havent come accrosed that issue yet so i really dont know about it but when i do i will recomment on this blog if i can ever find it again

  3. This is a great blog everyone needs to read. I think taking a class is a great idea to help get you more comfortable around people with disabilities. Whether it’s wheelchair, hearing impaired, mentally disabled.

  4. Know your client and their disability make them feel comfortable do not talk down to them. If they are in a wheelchair pull a chair up and see next to them at eye level. Do your research on all the disabilities you may come across. Let them be comfortable with you enough so they can ask any questions they may have and /or comments. 3

  5. I do agree that a massage can help people with disability’s but, like the article stated you want to find out everything. Before doing a massage I personally have not had the pleasure of doing one yet I am looking forward to it.

  6. i found this article to be very true about how not everyone can feel comfortable to work with special needs clients. but fortunately we do have alot of people who are willing to put forth that extra love and care that those clients really need.

  7. I definantly agree with this blog I have lived with someone who was deaf so therefore had to learn a little bit about how deaf people communicate and some sign language which is not hard. Definantly want to learn more about disabilities in order to help.

  8. The first time I went to the center I had to give a chair massage to an individual that was in a wheel chair. I made sure to communicate with them clearly and often and used less pressure than usual.

  9. When we first went to the center I was freaked out, but after a while I started to enjoy how we helped. These are great tips!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this! i’m definitely interested in taking additional classes so i can better help people with disabilities,i appreciate you sharing these websites.

  11. I was a nurses assistant a year ago and it was a great experience. that year made me realize that was NOT the type of healthcare i wanted to do, and now i want to go for phsyical therapy. it is hard work to assist those that dont want to be assisted, or have mental issues. but most everyone that wants it will let you know how to help them.

  12. I like this information, it helps me to better understand my clients a lot better for those who have disabilities… I would really like to learn how to communicate with a client during a massage if he or she is deaf.

  13. This blog was great! I agree that every massage therapist should educates themselves about disabilities. “Don’t be scared. Do your research!”

  14. I think it very important to learn and make yourself familiar with the different disabilities that massage therapy and help with. I would like to learn more about how to make others feal better and comfortable.

  15. I would love to take classes and learn how to work with special needs people I think it would be extremely rewarding for everyone involved. I am a little nervous about going to the center but looking forward to it!

  16. This entire concept fis perfectly with the reason I went into the healing arts. Am so excited to experience this and share joy. Thank you for sharing the continuing education sites!

  17. The scariest disability I have come into contact massaging would have to be dealing with muscle contractures in an Extended Care facility. Many residents have them because of their lack of mobility, lack of using the muscles, or from injuring the muscle. They can be extremely painful so it was important to me to only massage people who are still able to show physically or audibly that they are in pain, however massage can help tremendously when done correctly and at the clients tolerance.

  18. Massaging people with dissablities was one of things that I was most scared about when coming into this profession. I have found out that I get the most rewarding feeling from working with these people and I hope to continue to work with them!

  19. I have an aunt that survived cancer, and when I massaged her and saw a little re-leave, that made me very happy. I too agree that even know we’re in school and learned a lot, it never hurts to do research on your own to find out what more can we do. We’re in this to help people, to make them feel better, if you don’t do your homework you wont know what to do. Taking an extra 15-20 minutes to do a research never hurt any body.

  20. I wish massaging special populations wasn’t so foreign to me. It seems as though I have no idea what to do or where to start. Studying special populations this week has given me a sigh of relief! I am a little less intimidated now.

  21. Working with a disabled person is a great benefit to them and can be very personally rewarding if the massage therapist is open to it.

    They do truly need massage with how their limited motions effect their bodies and intern further impact their health.

  22. I think it is a great idea to be prepared for clients with disabilities. I plan on trying to be prepared for just about any kind of person imaginable to walk through my doors and i plan on welcoming every one of them! I do want to be as well informed and educated as possible so that I am able to give my clients the best possible service.

  23. I found this information to be helpful. Because it is true you never know what kind of client you will get. As to what problems the client will bring to you. It is important as therapist to be aware of common disabilities and how you can help someone

  24. This really hits home with me! I have several different people in my immediate life that all of this applies to. I think that it is very important to get all the information needed to know what is the proper procedure. In my life I have figured out that if I’m considerate of the other persons feelings it relaxes them a lot. Great blog.

  25. No one should be left out of the wonderful world of massage. Especially the people who need it the most. Just because you’re afraid of something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It usually means that you should. Preparing/educating yourself is more than a wise decision when it comes to working with special populations, its necessary. It can be some of the most beneficial work you do.

  26. Toughest massage? I don’t know. I always find bereavement difficult to deal with. There isn’t a right thing to say to make it better.

  27. I had never really thought about doing this until reading this. This is something I will be looking into. My aunt owns and runs assisted living house all my life so being comfortable would never be a problem and being able to make them feel better could be such a great feeling because there are so many people who so fear them and who wouldnt dare thinking about working on them.