There are many myths and preconceived notions regarding massage therapy. Some people may get nervous and not want to receive massage, while others may not know how to behave during a session. This is unfortunate, as most people can benefit from massage therapy. If you have never received a massage before, or you are getting ready to have your first massage, it is always nice to go in knowing a little bit about what to expect. It should also be said that all massage establishments are not created equal. Each place does things a little differently, and not all ways of doing things are good. Therefore, I would like to give you some examples of things that I have noticed at places I have worked, and what I keep an eye out for when I go to get a massage.
When you arrive for your massage
It is best to try to arrive for your massage about 15 minutes early. Most massage therapists have a health history intake form for you to fill out. It is important to fill in the correct information so that your therapist is better able to work with you during your session.
It is also a good idea to get there early so that you have a chance to sit down and relax a little bit before your session. Take your time filling out the intake form and have some water or tea if you like.
Once you are done filling out the form, your therapist will read it over and ask any questions that they have regarding the information you wrote down. You can feel free to ask your therapist about any concerns you may have as well.
Next you will be taken to the treatment room. Sometimes the intake is done in the treatment room, and sometimes you are taken there after your chat. Your therapist may ask you more questions about your preferences during the massage such what areas you feel like you need to have addressed and any potential areas that you may not want to receive work.
Your therapist will then ask you to undress to your comfort level and get on the table underneath the drape. You do NOT have to be naked to receive a massage. What I generally tell people is that if you feel like you would be uncomfortable taking something off, leave it on. Your massage therapist will leave the room to let you get ready for your massage.
During your massage
Most full-body massages cover head, neck, face, back, arms, hands, legs, and feet. Some other areas you may receive work on are glutes, pecs, and abdomen. If you are uncomfortable having work done on any of these areas, let your therapist know. You should never feel uncomfortable during your session.
Your massage therapist will drape you with a sheet or towel and only uncover the areas that they are massaging at the moment. Regardless of how much clothing you choose to remove, you will never be naked in the room while the therapist is there.
Feel free to speak up during your massage if there is anything you like or don't like. Everyone likes different things during a massage, and your therapist won't be offended if you say that you don't like what they are doing.
Most therapists want you to have a great experience, and feedback is a good way to help them work well with your individual tastes. Your therapist can best meet your specific needs if they know what those needs are.
After your massage
Once your massage is over, your therapist will let you know, then leave the room to let you get off the table and dress. Take your time getting up. Sometimes massage can leave you feeling woozy or dizzy.
Your massage therapist will likely have some water waiting for you to drink while they talk to you about your massage. It can be a good idea to drink water after your massage to help ease any dizziness you may feel and to help you get more grounded after your session. It is also a good reminder to have some water if you tend to forget to hydrate throughout your day.
Your massage therapist may talk with you a little bit about what they found during your session. They may tell you where they felt you holding tension, or if you have imbalances that need to be worked on. They may also provide you with home self care tips such as stretches, postural changes, or lifestyle suggestions.
Always feel free to ask questions if there is something you aren't clear about.
What should you look out for?
Massage therapists are not prostitutes!
One common misconception that many people still seem to have is that massage therapists are part of the sex industry. Massage therapy IS NOT prostitution. There are prostitutes calling themselves "masseuse" or "masseur" who use massage as a front for their illicit activities. In many parts of the world, masseuse or masseur are proper terms for anyone who does massage, however, if someone markets themselves that way in the United States, it is often a fancy way of saying they are a prostitute.
Other terminology to look out for is the use of the phrase "massage parlor". A massage parlor is often a brothel using massage therapy as a front for prostitution. Instead look for a clinic, practice, office, or spa.
I'm sure there are still therapists using these outdated terms, so if you are really worried, make sure to ask if they are a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) or Certified Massage Therapist (CMT). Whether they are an LMT or a CMT will vary depending on the state you are in, as some states require a license while others require a certification.
Worried about cleanliness?
Unfortunately, there are many spa type places that aren't as clean as they should be. Feel free to look over your room before your massage.
If they are asking you to put your face in a face cradle, make sure that it has a covering on it, that the covering fits over the entire face pad, and that it is clean. My general rule of thumb for my own practice is that if I wouldn't put my face there, I won't ask you to either. Not all places work that way.
Take a look at what they will be putting on you. Some therapists use oil, others use lotion or creme. It should either be in a bottle with a pump or squirt top, or in a small dish with enough in it for one massage. Make sure that the bottle looks clean and doesn't have a lot of oil on the outside. If there is jar of creme that the massage therapist has been dipping their hands into, you may want to request a new container or that they not use it.
Oils and cremes are great breeding grounds for bacteria. If the therapist has been touching other people and then touching the creme that they will later be putting on you, you could wind up with several other people's bacteria on your skin.
Some people like to bring in their own lotions and oils for the therapist to use. Some therapists are willing to use them while others are not. If you are bringing your own oils, there are some things to think about.
What is in it? Does it contain natural products or a lot of ingredients that you cannot pronounce? Are there fragrances? Are the fragrances artificial or from essential oils?
Your massage therapist may have skin sensitivity issues that require them to use only natural ingredients. If your oils have a lot of chemicals and additives, your therapist may choose not to use them. If your lotions or oils are scented a therapist may choose not to use them because the scents can sink into the table or linger in the room and be irritating to later clients who may have sensitivities to fragrance.
When choosing oils try to look for all natural ingredients with little or no scent. If there is a scent, it should be light and come from essential oils only, as fewer people will have sensitivity issues.
Whether it is your first massage or the latest of many, it is important to know what to look for. Everyone has different needs during a massage and it is important to find the right therapist for you. The most important thing for you and your massage therapist is that you have a safe and positive experience. If you feel uncomfortable, be willing to speak up or ask the therapist to modify what they are doing. If you vocalize your needs and your massage still isn't a positive experience, it is ok to look for a new therapist elsewhere. It is most important for you to find the right therapist for you.
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.