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Its potential as a social lubricant has put alcoholic beverages in the starring role for many gatherings and parties. Unless hosted by non-drinkers, the holidays stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year’s are heavily dominated by alcohol-filled celebrations. Of course, a majority of these partiers pay for their night of imbibing spirits the following day with a hangover. Thus, massage therapists are more likely to have clients in a hung-over state during the holidays compared to any other time of the year.

About Hangovers

Referring to the unpleasant feeling following the consumption of alcohol, a hangover typically begins within several hours after the last alcoholic drink.

Some of the major symptoms of a hangover include:

  • A severe, pounding headache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished ability to concentrate
  • Blurry vision
  • Unsteady gait
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach

Three of the reasons alcohol causes hangovers are:

  1. Alcohol is a diuretic, so drinking too much causes dehydration. Dehydration causes intense headaches, dry mouth and fatigue.
  2. In addition to alcohol in and of itself being toxic, the byproduct it is broken down into (namely acetaldehyde) is between 10 and 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself.
  3. When alcohol is metabolized, vitamin B is consumed. Thus, some aftereffects of drinking alcohol are caused by a deficiency of this crucial vitamin. Vitamin B deficiency commonly causes fatigue and grogginess.

Judgment Calls

Upon discovering that their client is recovering from excessive alcohol intake, massage therapists must make several decisions:

  1. To commence with massage? – Most massage therapy legislation clearly states that being under the influence of alcohol is a contraindication for receiving (or giving) massage therapy. However, being under the influence of alcohol is typically translated to being drunk – not being hung-over. In such a situation, therapists must make a judgment call deciphering if their client is still intoxicated or if his or her body is simply working on detoxification.
  2. Is massage beneficial or harmful for a hangover? – Another decision that must be made is if the client’s condition could be helped or harmed by a massage session. Different sources vary on their opinion on this matter, with some insisting that massage therapy can aid in the body’s elimination of toxins, while others believe that massage can intensify a hangover by exacerbating symptoms. Again, this comes down to a judgment call of how severe the person’s hangover is and if they are of sound enough mind and body to be a massage recipient.
  3. What type of massage is best? – If you choose to work with an affected client, most sources agree that vigorous, extensive circulatory massage can exacerbate hangover symptoms. However, the best way to proceed is to communicate with your client during your session. Gentle and relaxing massage strokes, cranial-sacral therapy, foot reflexology with an emphasis on liver and stomach regions and shiatsu focusing on liver, pericardium and stomach meridians are all good options. However, always encourage a hung-over client to drink plenty of water before and after your session – especially after!
  4. Suggesting other hangover cures? – Once again, doling out hangover suggestions to a client must be weighed carefully; are you enabling him or her to continue with harmful behavior or will your tips be used sparingly? If you choose to offer up your knowledge to relieve your client’s suffering, the following are known to help reduce hangover symptoms:
    • Vitamin B Complex – Since vitamin B is depleted during alcohol consumption, supplementing with a B complex can help reduce fatigue and feeling shaky.
    • Ginger Tea – Ginger’s anti-spasmodic effects can help calm nausea and stomach queasiness typical of a hangover.
    • N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) – An amino acid, NAC contributes to the production of glutathione, which helps flush the body of toxins to alleviate a hangover.
    • Drink Water – Since a majority of hangover symptoms are caused by dehydration, drinking water is a necessity to feeling better.

Working with hung-over clients is not the reason most massage therapists entered into the healing profession. However, many bodyworkers encounter some variation of a hangover – especially during the holidays. By thinking about the issues surrounding a hung-over client ahead of time, massage therapists will be more prepared to make the judgment calls necessary for a professional and safe encounter.