After having some rather interesting conversations with clients about previous sessions with other massage therapists, I have found that there is a bit of a lack of knowledge about your rights as a client. There are several things about receiving massage that you may or may not know. Anytime I see a client who is new to massage, I walk them through what they need to know before the session begins, so for those of you who do not have massage therapists who did the same for you, here is my list of things that every massage client should know.
1. You are in complete control of your session
This is one of the most important things you should be aware of. If anything ever makes you feel uncomfortable, you have a right to speak up and request change. It is also important to be aware that massage therapists, like medical professionals must have informed consent. What that means is that you must be informed as to what is being done, and provide consent. Check out my blog post on Informed Consent for more information. I will leave off here with the description of this point, as we will be addressing it repeatedly in the following sections.
2. Massage should never hurt
I have written about this repeatedly because it is very important to my work. Pain is not a normal part of a massage. It is not weakness leaving your body, it is not a sign that good things are being done... if you feel hurt, you are being hurt. Please be aware that if you feel pain during a massage and ask for your massage therapist to change what they are doing, they must comply. If your massage therapist keeps going even after you ask them to stop hurting you, or worse, tells you it is for your own good, end the massage immediately. This can be a bit awkward, but a good thing to say in cases like that is "You are not listening to me. I have asked for lighter pressure/told you that hurts, and you haven't stopped. This session is over. Please leave the room so that I can get dressed." In our society where we are taught to not hurt feelings and to apologize for even existing, it can be hard to stand up to someone especially when you are unclothed and lying on a table. Be brave. Very literally speaking, they are assaulting you. Remember, you are in control and can end the session at any time.
To read more of my thoughts about pain during massage check out my previous posts More Pressure Please: Deep Tissue Vs. Deep Pressure Massage and No Pain, No Gain? No Way!, or check out my massage philosophy here!
3. You do NOT have to be naked!
When I tell you to undress to your comfort level, that can mean different things to different people. A good rule of thumb that I like to give people is this: If you know that you would be tense or uncomfortable if you took off an article of clothing, leave it on. I have had people remain fully clothed, take everything off, and anything in between. If you need to leave on all of your clothes to be comfortable, do it.
That being said, if you are going to leave clothes on for a massage, try to wear clothes that are easy to work with. Avoid things like tights or leggings. They don't move well under our hands and are too tight to shift out of the way. Don't wear super slippery fabrics. Workout clothes may seem like a good idea, but try to leave the spandex at home. The slipperiness and stretchiness of the fabric rolls and bunches under our hands. Instead, try to wear natural, breathable fibers like cotton or linens. Err on the side of loose over tight as it is easier to shift around as we work. Some nice cotton yoga pants or sweat pants with a t shirt or tank top works just fine. Try to avoid bulky bras with underwire and opt instead for a nice light sports bra or a simple cotton bra(lette).
4. You dictate the conversation
Many massage therapists disagree on this one. I know that a lot of MTs feel that conversation is inappropriate. I approach massage a bit differently. I understand that our muscle and tissue holds emotion and memory. Tension can come from past trauma or emotional upheaval, and sometimes the best way to release your muscle tension is to speak what is wrong. If you release by verbalizing, go ahead. As a massage therapist, we are not licensed to do talk therapy and cannot diagnose or give advice, but we can listen with a non judgmental ear and provide support. Many of us also have referral networks set up and can refer you to doctors or therapists if you ask us questions outside of our scope of practice.
Conversely, many people like complete silence. I know some people who like to meditate, daydream, or just zone out during a massage. If you want silence and your massage therapist is talking to you, politely ask that they allow you to have quiet. Once again, you are in complete control of your session. Don't be afraid to request silence if you need it.
5. You control your setting
This varies depending on where you go. For the most part, you have some control over your setting.
Are the lights too bright? Ask for an eye pillow, or for the lights to be lowered.
Dislike the music? Ask for a change in music.
Chilly? Request a blanket or table warmer
Too warm? Request the removal of a blanket or table warmer. You can also ask if there is a fan they can use.
Don't like the smell? You can request different aromas or non scented oil. Request a window be opened if there is one.
Some of these may or may not be possible, but it never hurts to ask. Many spas don't give therapists control over music, many therapists don't have table warmers or extra blankets, and if there is an offensive aroma, you may or may not be able to get rid of it. If you are not completely comfortable with your surroundings, the work will not be as beneficial. Don't be afraid to ask for a change if you want one.
6. You can bring your own oil
Or lotion, or cream, etc. I am very picky about what I use on my own and other people's skin, so I have been known to refuse to use a clients lotion, but it can't hurt to ask. I avoid any products that have artificial fragrances, mineral oils, and other harmful ingredients. If I don't feel that it is safe for my skin, I will not use it, but for the most part, you can feel free to bring in your own lotions and oils, or choose from one of mine. Most massage therapists are open to considering emollients (fancy word that means something to spread on your skin to allow us to glide over it) brought in by clients. This goes back to being in complete control of your session. If you are picky about what goes on your skin, I suggest calling ahead to ask what your therapist uses, and ask about bringing your favorite. This is particularly important if you go to a day spa or especially a chain. They are notorious for buying the cheapest emollients they can find, which are usually really not good for your skin.
7. Tipping may or may not be appropriate
Tipping is something that can be very awkward for a lot of people. Some places encourage tips, others refuse tips altogether, but many people are taught that they are supposed to leave a tip. I generally leave tipping up to the client. The way it was explained to me was that it comes down to cost versus worth. Some people feel that the service they receive is worth more than what it costs, and choose to give extra. I consider it to be a great compliment. On the other hand, I am also not offended if someone chooses not to tip. I think it is also important to note that the appropriateness of tipping is often dictated by the type of establishment you go to. To read more of my thoughts on tipping, check out this post: To Tip or Not to Tip.
8. You should ALWAYS fill out an intake
As massage therapists, we are working with your body. If there is something about your body that may be different than what is considered normal or ideal, we should know about it. This is for your own safety and our liability. We need to know if you may have an allergic reaction to anything in our massage room, or if you are on any medications that may make certain techniques dangerous. A health history will not only dictate whether certain techniques are safe, but because massage affects every system of your body, there may be things that we can help with that you may not have even thought about. ALL massage therapists SHOULD have you fill in an intake. Not filling out an intake could create a potentially dangerous situation. Any massage therapist who has not done a written and/or verbal intake with a health history, list of med, and list of allergies, does not know enough about you and your body to ensure your safety. For more information on intakes, check out my post What's in an Intake?.
Well, that is my list of what you should know before receiving a massage. First time (or seasoned) massage clients may also want to check out some of my other posts such as What To Expect at Your Massage Appointment, Tips for Finding the Right Massage Therapist, Things Your Massage Therapist Won't Judge, Massage Etiquette: 10 Do's and Don't's, and When to Avoid Massage.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.