physical therapy during coronavirus pandemicRené A. Guzman | on June 15, 2020

 massages, Piña was excited to return for his regular

Jesse Piña has his temperature taken as he checks in for his appointment at the Oak Haven Massage.

Before Jesse Piña started going to Oak Haven Massage late last year, the San Antonio gym rat and business owner could barely lift a remote or fluff a pillow without pain. Then after just one session with massage therapist John Paul Baca, Piña’s back and left shoulder felt good as new.null

Now Piña is back in Baca’s capable bare hands, only now with both wearing a mask during what health officials warn is a second wave of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m just trying to be proactive about (my pain),” Piña said. “(But) I understand what’s going on.”

For the past few weeks, massage therapists and physical therapists have had to navigate their skin-on-skin professions with extra precautions, such as temperature checks at the front door, face masks for clients and staff, and lots and lots of hand washing.

A sign directing clients to wait in their car until their therapist is ready at the Oak Haven Massage on Huebner Road.

After all, who wants or much less benefits from a deep tissue massage with rubber gloves?

Dr. Julie Barnett, PT, DPT, MTC, who is also assistant professor of physical therapy at UT Health San Antonio recommends getting a massage only if it’s really needed for pain management.

“I would not get a feel-good massage right now,” Barnett said.

Piña recently returned to the Oak Haven location on Huebner Road for just the second time since it reopened late last month. After a temperature check behind plexiglass, a masked Piña then undressed for a full-body deep tissue massage from a masked Baca, who still provided the 80-minute massage with bare hands.

The massage may not be prescribed by a physician, but Piña still likens it to just what the doctor ordered.

“Mine’s more physical therapy, I think,” Piña said. “I’m not just going for a massage.”

San Antonio Metropolitan Health District director Dawn Emerick recently warned that the Alamo City and other major Texas cities have seen a spike in COVID-19 hospital admissions and people testing positive for the disease after businesses reopened, part of a similar trend in several states across the country.

Photo: Courtesy Julie Barnett

Clare Campbell (right) receives physical therapy for her broken wrist from physical therapist Dr. Julie Barnett at the Non-Surgical Center of Texas in San Antonio. Campbell and Barnett both take extra precautions during what’s being called the second wave of the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, massage clients are returning to the spas, especially now that Texas massage facilities can operate at full capacity.

“Our clients missed us,” said Lindsey Hoggard, regional manager for the Oak Haven Massage location on Huebner Road as well as the location on Bulverde Road.

Hoggard said before the pandemic, Oak Haven averaged around 300 appointments a day across its two locations. Since reopening, the spas together now average 200 appointments a day. The facility cut the number of appointments available each day to allow time for extra sanitizing between clients and staggering arrival times so there’s no overlap and fewer people in the waiting room, a practice now fairly common across massage facilities.

To maintain safety, Oak Haven and other massage spas have had to take some regular features off the massage table, such as cupping tools, table warmers and extra cushions.

“It’s a little more uncomfortable to get a massage right now,” Hoggard said. “But the clients have been (accommodating) to such change.”

When it comes to physical therapy, little has changed in the practice except for therapists and patients wearing masks and more Plexiglas in the waiting rooms.

Barnett noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed physical therapy an essential service since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Physical therapy clinics did lower their staffing, but it’s still easy to get an appointment.

Sixty-year-old Clare Campbell in San Antonio broke her right wrist in March. Since April, she’s gone to the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, a physical medicine and rehabilitation clinic in San Antonio where Barnett and other therapists massage Campbell’s wrist, arm and shoulder to help strengthen her hand and arm muscles.

Campbell said she appreciates the extra precautions the Non-Surgical Center of Texas takes with both patients and staff, which include mandatory masks and temperature checks for anyone entering the facility, patients waiting in their cars in the parking lot until they’re called in to avoid crowds in the waiting room and frequent hand washing for everyone once they’re inside.

“So I feel safe there because of that,” Campbell said. “It is skin-on-skin contact, but it’s helping my wrist heal.”

Receptionist Jessica Ferguson wears a cloth mask covered by a N-95 mask behind Plexiglas at the front desk at the Oak Haven Massage.

Barnett stressed that, unlike most massage therapists, all physical therapists have done rotations through a hospital and intensive care unit, so they understand the importance of cleanliness precautions as well as virology and the spread of infection.

“At the end of the day, it’s understanding science and the spread of disease,” Barnett said.

Which is why Barnett recommends massage alternatives such as going for a walk or riding a bike if your goal is to simply relax. She also suggests DIY treatments such as taping two tennis balls together in a sock and lying on them or using a foam roller. And topical creams such as those with arnica are effective anti-inflammatories for muscle pain, she said.

Of course, Barnett also understands plenty of people will get a massage anyway. So she recommends they make sure the massage spa they do go to practices strict screening and sanitation protocols.

In addition to temperature checks, masks and frequent hand washing at the massage facility, Barnett also recommends massage therapists stay behind their clients as much as possible so as not to be directly in front of their face to decrease exposure. And Barnett suggests clients change clothes and take a shower when they get home.

“We do need to hold each other accountable,” Barnett said. “You have to be healthy showing up and you have to be healthy providing the treatments.”

René Guzman is a features reporter in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. He writes about pop culture and what makes San Antonio so uniquely puro San Antonio. To read more from René, become a subscriber. | Twitter: @

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EynsMassage is currently following all state precautions and procedures for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Refer to your own states guidelines, and stay safe.

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