This happened at my studio a few weeks ago, and I just forgot to post about it here until now.
One of the therapists who works the same shift as me was working on a woman for the first time. She has performed a very light touch massage because the woman had told her that she (the client) had a very low pain threshold. At the end of the massage, the client had gotten dressed and was ready to leave, when all of a sudden she was incapacitated by a pain that shot across her lower back, affecting both left and right sides of the lumbar region (roughly L4-L5). She leaned forward and laid on the massage table from the waist up and was unable to move without excruciating pain. The therapist pulled the other male therapist in to try to help her. At this point, I went into my 90-minute massage and treated my client. 90 minutes later, the woman was still laying on the floor, crying, unable to move without unbearable pain in her lower back. I got a hot stone pack from the supply room and laid it (through towels, of course) under her back to alleviate some of the pain.
Keep in mind that at this point she had been in this pain for around two hours. Her boyfriend was at work and not reachable for whatever reason, and although she lived very nearby she could not stand to walk home. Sitting upright was equally impossible for her. Laying on her back was the only thing she could do.
The therapist who had worked on her, a woman who has only been working in the field for about 18 months if I remember correctly, was just losing it. She thought that she had broken this woman's back or otherwise paralyzed her from the waist down, and was crying and shaken. Her confidence was absolutely shot, and she told the receptionist at the studio that she couldn't do any more massages that day. After roughly 45 more minutes (so approaching three hours, total time), the client finally agreed to let us call an ambulance to transport her to the E.R. The other male therapist and I cleared the walkway (our studio is on the 2nd floor of a building with no elevator or handicap access) and moved the cars out back to give the paramedics direct access with no obstructions. After that, I spent about fifteen minutes talking to the therapist who had worked on this poor woman, assuring her that a massage as light as she had performed could not have done extensive damage to the woman's back, and that at worst what had happened was that she had a slipped or herniated disc, and that she would get help at the hospital. Eventually, she stopped crying. She still had to go home, though.
The paramedics showed up, and tried loading the woman onto this chair type contraption, but to no avail as she still could not sit upright without unbearable pain. She was eventually strapped to the backboard and carried out.
Now, it turned out to be a severe muscle spasm, and she's fine now. But the reason I recount this story here for you is that if there are any of you reading this community who are relatively new to the profession, you need to know that if you stay in the job long enough, something like this will
happen to you. Maybe not to your client, but you will see it or be working when it happens. Hell, the client I worked on right after this was over had a back spasm that, while much less severe, impacted her to the point where she had to stay on the table for a few minutes to allow the spasm to pass.
There is nothing that we can do to prevent the unknowns from happening in this line of work. But when things like this do occur, the most important thing is to remain calm. Take a deep breath (or ten), get help if you are able to, and use your training to help the client into a non-painful position. If you freak out, it only makes the client freak out more and can worsen the situation. If this happens during an outcall with a private client, your first response after trying to get them into a non-painful position is to call whomever they ask you to, and offer to call an ambulance. If you work at a studio, go to the receptionist and get them to offer to call.
Some of us can go our entire careers without seeing anything like this. Just don't assume that you'll be one of those fortunate few.