Back in May, I posted a blog about things that people may get embarrassed about that their massage therapist won't judge. With any new experience it can be hard to know how to act or what to expect, and while there are a lot of things that you shouldn't worry about, there are certain niceties that really should be exercised.
Below you will find a list of do's and don't of getting a massage. If you have not followed them to this point, have no fear. All behavior and information is new to us at some point. The point is to not continue behaviors that may be seen as rude or unhelpful. Most of these are not things that people do out of malice, which is why I try not to encourage shame, but rather educate for future exchanges.
1. DO communicate
If you don't like something, you have to let me know in order for it to change. Don't be afraid to speak up about things like techniques, music, heat, etc. If I have the table warmer on and you are hot, let me know to turn it off. If you are still hot, let me know to remove the blanket. If you feel pain, absolutely let me know! Pain is NOT a normal part of a massage, but rather your body's way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be changed. You will not feel better afterward if you are injured on a massage table. People think this is the case because they start to feel better a few days afterward, but are you really feeling better than you did before you had your massage, or are you feeling better than you did just afterward because you healed from the injuries that were caused? Most likely the latter.
*A note on pressure. I know that people like to comment on the pressure. Pressure is starting to become a dirty word for me. I have had clients who want a painful massage because they have been told that it is the only way for good work to happen. Your tissue will let me know if I should apply more pressure. There is a natural give and a natural endpoint. Forcing past those endpoints will get you that pain the you seem to want, but it will also damage your tissue, and injure me. Every massage therapist is different, but I generally go to the endpoint through most of the massage. The goal is to have the endpoint change. So your tissue won't let me in very deeply at first, so I work with what it will allow until it softens and melts and lets me in further. Asking for "more pressure" will honestly not get you very far with me. Here is a post about the difference between a deep tissue massage and a deep pressure massage.
2. DON'T show up late (or too early)
Your massage time begins at the time that you are scheduled. I encourage new clients to arrive 15 minutes early for paperwork and intake, and returning clients to arrive about 5-10 minutes early for a brief verbal check in with enough time to use the restroom if need be and get on the table to begin on time. I very much want for you to have the amount of time on the table that you booked, and in order to do that, it is important that you arrive on time. If you walk in the door at 12:00 for your 12:00 appointment, the massage won't begin until 5-10 minutes into your scheduled appointment time. To get the most out of your time, try to arrive at the time suggested by the establishment.
I have found that when I encourage people to arrive 15 minutes before their appointment, they will come in anywhere from 45 minutes early to 15 minutes late. Neither of these is appropriate. I would much prefer someone show up early than late, but if you arrive early, the room may not be set up, and the last client may still be on the table. This might be alright if you are going to a spa where you can sit in a relaxation room sipping tea or to an office that you are familiar with, but if it is your first appointment at a place you have never been to, make sure showing up 30-45 minutes early is ok. My office is very small. The front room where you fill out intake forms doesn't have much room, but works just fine when it is just me and a client. Adding another person can make it cramped and make for an awkward feeling. Very recently I had a new client show up 30 minutes early while my previous client was still on the table. I had already left the treatment room and was allowing her to get dressed when the new client arrived. When my first client came out of the treatment room, there was no place for her to sit down as we went over payment, making her feel rushed and uncomfortable. I had also promised to give her the card of someone I was referring her to, but was not able to do so, nor was I able to give her some self care tips after her session. I respect the privacy of each of my clients, and so was not able to talk with her about her session in front of a complete stranger. I also respect confidentiality which could not be kept under the circumstances. My office is a good size for one client and one therapist. It is a small private practice office, and I schedule my clients 30 minutes apart for that reason. By showing up so early, the new client not only made me feel rushed to get the room turned over, but more importantly made my other client feel uncomfortable.
When you arrive late, it is annoying to me, but you are honestly doing more of a disservice to yourself. Your massage is done at the end of the scheduled appointment time. That means that if you book a 60 minute massage, show up 10 minutes late, take 5 minutes to fill out your paperwork and another 5 to do oral intake and get on the table, you are now 20 minutes into your hour before I even touch you. That means that your 60 minute massage has become a 40 minute massage. I will not inconvenience my next client who may show up 15 minutes early as instructed by going 20 minutes over on your time. You blocked out an hour on my schedule, I promise to be there and to work to the best of my abilities during your hour, but when your hour is up, your massage is done regardless of when you got on the table. I used to be more lenient about this, but found that I was being expected to inconvenience others due to someone else's lateness. Since then, I have made the policy above, and stick to it.
3. DO use proper terminology
There are a number of terms that are outdated and may be found offensive by many therapists. I understand that most of these terms are still the ones that you hear on television, and that you may not be aware that they are offensive. I know massage therapists who will get upset over the terminology, but I prefer to acknowledge that the person using them was not doing so out of malice, and will try to educate them on the proper terminology and explain why we use it. This terminology is what is used in the United States. In many other countries they still use terminology that has changed here. Some common terms are:
4. DON'T smoke before your appointment
If you are a smoker, I understand that it can be hard to go without smoking as it is highly addictive. That being said, I encourage you to try to refrain from smoking before your massage in order to protect the health and wellbeing of your massage therapist as well as any other clients.
I will admit that this one is a sore spot for me. I am actually highly allergic to some of the chemicals in cigarette smoke, and have had allergic reactions to clients on my table before. When you smoke, you are taking in any number of toxins and poisons. Your body recognizes that they are harmful and tries to get rid of them by any means possible, meaning that the toxins from your cigarettes literally seep out of your skin. Whenever you touch another person, you are passing on all of the toxins from your cigarettes to the other person. Please don't endanger my health by smoking before your session. Smoke is something that a fair number of people have a sensitivity or allergy to, and the smell can stick around for a while before it dissipates. I like for my treatment room to smell clean, and none of my clients should have to walk into a massage room smelling of cigarette smoke.
5. DO turn off your cell phone
It is so obnoxious to be giving (or receiving) a nice relaxing massage only to hear text messages, calls, and alarms going off. Putting it on vibrate is often not enough. When you are lying on the table and hear that buzzing in your purse, you automatically tense up. You get out of that space of relaxation and are suddenly wondering who is calling or texting. Now there is something happening on your phone and you don't know what it is. Just turn your cell phone off. It will not hurt you to go 60-90 minutes without communicating with the world. Take the time for yourself rather than worrying about what other people want from you. If you need to keep your cell phone on due to being on call or having a family emergency, let me know. Otherwise, turn it off.
6. DON'T be a "helper"
When you are on the massage table, try to relax your body. I know this is hard for a lot of people. If you have trouble letting go, at least try not to actively "help" your therapist. Yes, I will be placing the bolster under your ankles or knees, and yes, I will need to lift your arms and legs to do draping, but I promise that I am more than capable of lifting your leg. Occasionally I have a client who will jerk their arms and legs up in an attempt to assist with the draping or bolstering. Just the other day I nearly got kicked in the face by a client who was anxious to help me drape her leg. This was a first time client with me who had received a lot of massage before. I got the impression that she knew what was coming next and wanted to help by lifting the appropriate limb. When you try to help your therapist in this way, you are actually creating more work for them, and risk hitting or kicking them in the process. It is much easier to lift a limp leg than one that is being lifted for you. If I am having trouble getting you into a certain position, I will ask for your assistance. If I do not ask, just try to relax and enjoy the massage. I should be the one doing the work, not you.
7. DO have good hygiene
Please make sure that you are relatively clean when you show up to your massage. Try to have clean feet, nails, hair, and skin in general. Remember that you are asking someone else to touch you. Before coming in ask yourself if you would want to touch you.
Over the years, I have seen people of many different hygiene levels come in for a massage. Please do your therapist a favor and clean up or rinse off if you need to. The worst cases of poor hygiene tend to occur with the feet, nails, hair, and behind ears, but I have seen people who have come in off the beach, from mowing the yard, or who just don't seem to have bathed recently. Not only is this disrespectful to me as I will be massaging you, but it is disrespectful of my clean workspace. I have worked in places that didn't seem to care much about cleanliness, but my office is not one of those. There is often not time between clients to sweep and vacuum the floors which may have dirt, mud, sand, yard clippings, or more tracked in by someone who didn't rinse off before their session, so please don't track them in in the first place.
8. DON'T bring in artificial fragrances
As a courtesy to future clients, please only wear lotions, creams, or sprays which are unscented or lightly scented with essential oils. Each massage therapist will have their own preferences for products that they use on clients, and I use a lot of aromatherapy with natural base oils and essential oils. These are generally light and natural and few people have trouble with them. As with many natural aromas, the scent of the oils generally has time to dissipate before the next client enters the room. If you choose to bring in your own lotion or oil to use, make sure it is unscented or scented only with essential oils.
Please do not spray or apply products with artificial fragrances in the massage room. Many clients have allergies or sensitivities to artificial fragrances, and the fragrances take much longer to dissipate than natural aromas. This means that if you spray your perfume in the office before you leave, or wear a fragranced lotion during your massage that seeps into the warmer or padding on the table, another client may have a negative reaction, and you could make their massage very uncomfortable for them.
9. DO stay home if you are sick
This is for your protection and my own. Getting a massage while sick can make you feel worse by pushing the illness through your body more quickly. Fever is also a contraindication for a massage, meaning that you should not receive massage if you have one. Also, please try to remember that I touch people for a living. I can't go to work if I am sick, so please don't share your illness with me. Like many other businesses, I have a 24 hour cancellation policy resulting in a fee if ignored. If you call me to let me know that you can't come in due to illness, I will not charge the fee. This is just my policy, and may not apply to other establishments.
10. DON'T even joke about sex!
Just don't. It's not funny, it's offensive. I don't need you telling me that you have a big tip for me if I want to earn it, and I don't want to hear about your "injury" that caused "scar tissue" on your scrotum. Yes... I have heard both of these before, and more. If you intentionally touch or grope me during your massage, that is sexual assault. It is not funny, and certainly not appropriate. I also don't want to hear your jokes about happy endings and massage parlors. Keep them to yourself. Do not tell me you are ready for your massage and have me walk into the room to find you sitting or lying face up on the table stark naked after I instructed you to start face down under the sheet. You should always be UNDER the sheet. The best case scenario for you here is that I end the massage, and you have to pay for your whole session regardless of when it ended. The worst case scenario is that I call the police and press charges for sexual assault, indecent exposure, solicitation, etc. Just don't.
So there you have it. Ten do's and don't's to remember when going in for a massage. I wrote this article in first person because it is based on my preferences. Many of these tips are universal to all or most massage therapists, some are more important to me, or only relevant to people who operate out of spaces similar to mine. I can only tell you what I have observed in my own experience.
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.