Massage Therapy for Obese Clients

Massage therapy for overweight clients can help relieve some of the painful symptoms related to obesity. 

What is obesity?  

According to the CDC, nearly 42% of adults in the U.S. are considered obese, while around 30% of Americans are overweight. As of 2019, obesity cost Americans over $172 billion in medical expenses, and it remains a significant contributor to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, liver disease, gallstones, sleep and breathing problems, and certain types of cancer. 

Contributing factors to excess weight gain among adults and youth vary, but the most common include:

  • Genetics
  • Sleep habits
  • Level of physical activity
  • Medical conditions or medicines
  • Types and amounts of food and drinks consumed
  • Sedentary behaviors, such as watching TV, engaging with a computer, or talking and texting on the phone
  • Where and how people live, including their access to and ability to afford healthy foods and safe places to be active

Obesity is a clinical term used to specify people who have a body mass index (BMI) of over 30. Clinicians consider individuals with a BMI between 25 and 30 to be overweight. Experts calculate BMI via this simple formula:   

Weight in kilograms, divided by height in meters squared = BMI  

Obese and overweight patients can range anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds. In many cases, these clients are also quite tall. This presents massage therapists with a challenge when performing a massage.   

Recommended course: Working with Clients with Health Problems  

Health benefits of massage for obese clients 

People carrying a few extra pounds can develop many issues over the years. Their knees, hips, neck, lower back, feet, and other areas are more prone to aches and pains. Their muscles and bones may become weaker, and their range of motion also becomes limited. Most obese people also suffer from high blood pressure. As a result, most are in need of massage therapy to help with the pain and to increase the range of motion.  

Unfortunately, many massage therapists are not equipped with the knowledge to help these clients. Most clients complain that only their middle area receives attention during a massage. The massage therapist tends to forget the rest.  

Appropriate positioning for obese massage clients  

Heavyset clients tend to ride much higher off the table. This makes it more difficult for the therapist to find a comfortable position in which they can easily work their muscles and apply adequate pressure. Thus, it is important to position them much lower than the usual table position. If the table is already as low as it will go, consider using a mat on the floor.  

At times, heavyset patients may have issues lying on their back or on their front. This may cause breathing problems. In these cases, massage therapists might want to position them on their side and work on them seated on a chair or stool.   

This position also makes it easier for therapists to pay attention to their own body mechanics. Keeping a neutral position with straight wrists can help reduce the impact on the therapist’s body when performing massage therapy for overweight clients. Also, bend at the knees when moving a body part for the range of motion, as each limb can be quite heavy. By staying in line with the client’s body, therapists can reduce the chance of injuring themselves.