As just one of the many ways people express themselves and their individual sense of style, piercings have been popular for centuries. The trend continues today, with a significant percentage of young people adorning themselves with body piercings. Since massage therapists are likely to encounter clients with this kind of jewelry, they should know about the potential issues that could present while working with someone sporting a body piercing.

About Body Piercing

In general, piercings involve a hollow needle being passed through a body part followed by the insertion of jewelry into the newly formed hole. Although some pockets of society are slow to accept this practice, body piercings have historical traditions of identifying royalty, portraying courage and improving virility. In ancient Egypt, pharaohs pierced their navels as a rite of passage and Roman soldiers pierced their nipples to show their manhood.

The piercing heals when scar tissue forms a tunnel around the jewelry. Depending on the location of the piercing, the healing process can take anywhere from four weeks to a year. The following are average healing time estimates based on the area that is pierced:

  • Cheek: 4 to 5 months
  • Ear Cartilage: 4 months to 1 year
  • Ear Lobe: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Eyebrow: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Genitalia: 4 weeks to 6 months
  • Lip: 2 to 3 months
  • Nasal Septum: 6 to 8 months
  • Navel: 4 months to 1 year
  • Nipple : 3 – 6 months
  • Nostril: 2 to 4 months

This general guide can be helpful to massage therapists who have clients insisting that their relatively new piercing is fully healed. For example, a wound from a 2 month-old navel piercing is likely to still be open and susceptible to infection.

Piercing Problem Prevalence

Known as a time where someone can explore his/her freedom and experiment with image, many university students receive body piercings. According to a 2001 Pace University survey, 51 percent of undergraduates had a body piercing and, of those, 17 percent experienced medical complications from the piercing. With pierced navels outpacing other body parts as prone to infection, the complications most reported included:

  • Bleeding
  • Tissue trauma
  • Bacterial infections

Despite the high rate of complications from piercings, this practice remains prevalent among undergraduate university students.

Relating to Massage Therapists

Piercings may appear to be a relatively innocuous body adornment. However, there are several reasons why massage therapists should know if their clients are pierced, where it is, how long ago the procedure was performed and if there are any problems with it.

According to Ruth Werner, LMP, NCTMB in the December 2008 edition of Massage Today, the guidelines for massage in the context of piercings are clear, “New piercings involve injured skin and must be locally avoided until the lesion has scarred over. On the other hand, older piercings pose no contraindications, and the jewelry can be removed to make massage more effective whenever necessary.” In addition to performing massage in an area with an unhealed piercing, some additional cautions for bodyworkers include:

  1. Navel piercing – Laying prone on the massage table can be uncomfortable for someone with a pierced navel that is not completely healed or is showing any degree of infection, inflammation, pain or redness.
  2. Infection – If there are any signs of an infection at a piercing site, circulatory massage could spread the infection and is therefore contraindicated. Similar to any other type of skin infection, symptoms would include fever, pain, oozing greenish pus, swelling and redness. Additionally, Universal Precautions must be followed for any clients with these symptoms.
  3. Sharp or protruding edges – Regardless of the piercing’s location, jewelry that has a sharp or protruding edge could easily catch on the sheet or drape, or get stuck in the table when a client changes position. A piercing that gets caught on something has the potential of accidentally getting ripped out of the skin.
  4. Know where it is – While no therapist would perform work directly on a pierced body part, therapists massaging a clothed client may not know what is underneath the material. Even if it is fully healed, many types of massage on a piercing are sure to cause irritation and possibly pain.

Especially prevalent in the young adult population, piercings are extremely common – and their location is not always obvious. By taking an extra moment to inquire about piercings – where they are, if there is any discomfort, how long they have been there and if there is any chance of it getting snagged on your linens or table – therapists are going the extra mile to assure their client’s health, safety and comfort.