Dr. Timothy F. Brewer, an infectious disease expert at the University of California Los Angeles, says if, in doubt, individuals should delay their appointments until the benefits outweigh the risks.

“If you are unsure if you need a massage or acupuncture treatment, it is probably better to defer getting treatment if COVID-19 transmission is occurring in your community,” he said.

“It is a question of risk/benefit. Does the person think that the potential benefit is worth the possible risk? In general, I would recommend deferring these types of activities for now, but others might believe that the benefits are worth the possible risk,” he added.

Kim argues that for some people, massage and acupuncture appointments are an indulgence. In this case, she advises against attending appointments during the pandemic.

“If it’s just for a luxury item, if somebody doesn’t need it, it might be best to forgo them if it’s not necessary,” she said.

If it’s essential

For patients with significant pain or medical problems, acupuncture and massage can be essential services.

“We see a lot of cancer patients who have a lot of pain and who are suffering greatly. Certain exceptions should be made, especially for palliative purposes, for serious conditions,” Kim said.

Brewer agrees that for people experiencing pain, the risk of attending appointments during a pandemic could be worth it.

“The benefit is likely to be higher for these individuals, so they may be willing to accept a higher level of risk than someone who perceives less benefit,” he said.

Dossett says there are many ways individuals can protect themselves if they feel they need to continue having acupuncture, massage, or similar services during the pandemic.

“You should wear a face covering. Make sure the therapist is wearing a face covering and requiring other clients to do the same. Consider having a massage or acupuncture session outdoors or, at the very least, in a room with open windows,” she said.

“Ask the therapist about their practices to reduce the spread of infection; how often are surfaces cleaned? If indoors, how much time elapses between different clients in the same room? For example, if a massage therapist has two rooms and alternates using them, leaving an open window to air out the room for an hour between clients, that is a lot better than having back-to-back clients in the same room with windows closed,” she added.

During a period of sustained stress for many, Kim says services like acupuncture and massage may be more important than ever.

“We have to also consider the health of people holistically. The mental health aspect has maybe affected just as many or more people than COVID itself. We have to be cognizant of that,” she said.

“There are a lot of patients that may benefit from acupuncture and massage, and it should be considered a medical modality and obviously those are allowed during this time. It can be done; we just need to be thoughtful about it,” she added.