Make The Most of It {Getting A Massage}

As I wait ever so patiently for my much delayed massage therapy license to arrive in the mail, I’ve been running a promotion through my husband’s office. Free hour-long massages for employees and family members. So far, it has been pretty successful in drumming up interest and will likely result in some future clients. Yay!

It has also given me the opportunity to get back into giving massages after a month-long hiatus during my testing and crazy amounts of paperwork phase. I’ve seen a few people who have had professional massages before and I’ve seen a few people for whom I’ve provided the first massage they’ve ever received. As a new therapist, working with entirely new clients, I’m in a unique position to give some helpful advice to massage clients. So, whether you get massages regularly, occasionally or have never had one before but would like to in the future, read on for some helpful tips for things you, as a client, can do to make the most of your massage!

Be honest and assertive about the pressure.

This is really the most important point. If you only take one thing away from this post, let it be this.

It is a common misconception that for a massage to be effective, it has to hurt. No. This is entirely incorrect. Many people shy away from deep tissue massage because they’ve heard that it is painful, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Deeper pressure is used to target and release contraction in deeper muscles. The strokes are slower and more deliberate and while it may not be as relaxing as lighter strokes and can cause a little pain in areas that are very tight, but also tender, it should never hurt in a way that makes you grimace, or tighten your body against the pain. If you are forced to brace yourself against the pain, you end up counteracting the effects of the massage. It’s impossible to loosen tight muscles if a client is actively tightening them while you are working.

I tell clients to register their pain or discomfort on a scale of 1-10. 1 means it doesn’t hurt at all, it’s like I’m barely touching you. 10 means it hurts so bad you have to restrain yourself from jumping off the table and smacking me in the face. A massage should never hurt more than a 7. A 7 is a “good hurt,” the way a stretch can hurt, but in a good way. If the pressure causes pain above a 7 or if your therapist is giving you pressure that’s closer to 1 and you want something more like a 5, speak up! Also, keep breathing when the pressure is deep. Taking slow, deep breaths will help your body relax and increases the likelihood and ease of achieving a release.

Every client is different. What might be deep pressure for one person could be more like a 3 or 4 for someone else. A good therapist will be able to intuitively connect with clients and sense the need for pressure changes based on the reaction of the tissues and the client’s body language. But intuition only takes you so far and it is up to the client to speak up if the pressure is not to his/her liking. Telling a therapist that you want him/her to adjust the pressure is not rude, or insulting. A massage therapist wants to provide the best massage possible and will welcome any requests for changes in pressure.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

If you live in a state where massage is regulated and requires education and licensing (most states at this point, I’m happy to say) then your therapist spent a lot of time and energy learning about the human body and the craft of massage. I really make an effort to discuss before the massage what kind of techniques I plan to use and how the massage will likely feel and I always try to talk about the massage afterward, to explain what I felt in the muscles and what I think could use more work in the future. But it’s hard to plan out a massage before you actually get your hands on the tissues and see what the muscles feel like on that given day. Sometimes I’ll feel something in the tissues that I think warrants some myofascial release techniques, which is a gentle stretching to the fascia. Some of these techniques can feel a bit odd when being performed so I always encourage clients to ask if they have any questions or concerns about what I’m doing. Never be afraid to ask a therapist why she is performing a particular technique and what kind of effect it will have. A well trained therapist should be able to give you a clear, understandable explanation for why she chose a particular technique.

Additionally, massage therapist learn A LOT about muscles. If you feel that your therapist is working out a knot in a certain region and you’re curious about what is knotted up and how/why it got that way, just ask. Part of being a massage therapist is being interested in educating clients about their bodies and how tension patterns, referred pain, postural issues, etc. work. We have a lot of knowledge. If you have questions, please ask so that we can put that knowledge to good use!

Relax Your Head, Neck and Other Appendages

I see this all the time and even catch myself doing it on occasion when I get a massage: If a massage therapist attempts to move your head, arms or legs during the massage, do not help them. Clients so often stiffen when a therapist moves around, stretches or positions parts of their bodies. Like tensing up against a painful massage, moving your own limbs or stiffening against the movement completely counteracts the desired effect. Really try to keep your head and appendages loose and heavy. Think of them as being dead weight in the hands of the therapist, completely subject to the whims and movements of the therapist. By trusting your therapist and giving up control of your body in this way, you’ll allow for a fuller, more rewarding massage experience.

Have The Courage to Try Something New

There are certain things that very few therapists will include during a first-time massage: abdominal work and glute work are pretty much always excluded, as well as deeper work to muscles like the psoas, pec minor or subscapularis (the manner in which these muscles are accessed is kind of awkward and can be a bit uncomfortable). If you’ve had a fair number of massages, though, and feel comfortable with your therapist, consider requesting that these often neglected areas be included. Both abdominal massage and glute massage feel incredible. Sure, it can feel a bit awkward to have someone massage your butt muscles for the first time, but who knows, you might end up kicking yourself for having waited so long to give it a shot.

There’s No Embarrassment Needed

Are you really hairy? Have a problem with acne? Is there a weird mole on your back? Lots of cellulite on your thighs? Your massage therapist doesn’t care. There’s no judgment in massage. In the eyes of a massage therapist, every client is just skin and muscles. When a person is on my massage table, I see only their tissues. That is my focus. Please, never let fear or embarrassment prevent you from receiving or enjoying a massage.

Speaking of Hair

It is ill advised to shave just before your massage. Like I said above, your massage therapist doesn’t care if your legs are hairy or stubbly or anything else, so you don’t need to worry about shaving for our benefit. Many lotions and creams can actually sting freshly shaved legs. I made this mistake on more than one occasion in massage school and it can really ruin a massage when your legs are burning from the lotion. Shave the night before if you want, or even the morning of your massage if you are going late in the day, but I would certainly advise against shaving just before you leave for your massage. Ouch!

A Note About Tipping

To tip or not to tip is certainly an area of stress and confusion for a lot of people. Ultimately, it’s entirely up to you to decide if you want to tip your therapist or not, but if you’d like a little insider advice, here it is:

If you got your massage at a spa or wellness center, chiropractor’s office, or some place where the therapist works for a larger organization, you should tip. Most spas and similar settings give massage therapists 50% commission on massages. So if you pay $80 for an hour long massage at a spa, odds are the person who gave you that massage is only getting $40 for that hour of work. Your tip goes to the therapist and is a good way of showing a therapist that you appreciate her hard work.

A therapist that works independently (has her own practice) isn’t splitting her income with anyone else. So if you pay $80 for an hour long massage, odds are she’s taking home close to $80 for that hour of work. Some money might need to go to room rental costs, a bit goes to equipment and supplies and some is lost in the end to taxes, but that’s usually factored into the pricing. If you want to tip your therapist for an especially good massage, or because she cut you a deal, or just because you are a very generous person and feel as though the massage is fairly priced and you’d like to give a little bonus with a nice tip, that’s entirely up to you and we both welcome and appreciate it. We don’t expect tips, though, and certainly wouldn’t hold it against anyone who chooses not to tip.

I know that was a lot to read through, but I think it is good advice that, if put to use, will help take your massage experience from good to great. If you’ve never had a massage before, I fully encourage you to set aside a little money to schedule one at some point. Not only do they feel great and help you relax, but massages improve your circulation and lymphatic systems, as well as improve your skin, your mood and your ability to sleep. They can reduce headaches, increase flexibility and help correct postural problems. And that’s only a few of the positive benefits!

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