New to massage? Here's what you should know...
New to massage? Here’s what you should know…
By Carolyn Rankin, LMT
Massage therapy--along with exercise, hydration, and healthy eating-- is a hugely important part of any self-care regimen. According to the AMTA, massage therapy can reduce stress, anxiety and muscle tension, help manage chronic pain, relieve tension headaches and migraines, lower blood pressure, increase range of motion, decrease the chances of sports related injuries, and contribute to an overall sense of balance and well being. For some people, massage therapy is a regular and integral part of their self-care routine. For others, the idea of receiving massage therapy can be daunting. Many first-time massage clients come in with the same questions. So, here are some answers to those questions to help newbies feel more comfortable booking their first massage.
What does my therapist mean when he says “Go ahead and get undressed?”
OK, so let’s just get this part out of the way: yes, massage therapy is most beneficial when the client is almost or completely naked. And unfortunately, our culture as a whole still balks at this idea. But if you get anything at all from this blog, let it be this: MASSAGE IS A THERAPEUTIC, NON-SEXUAL PRACTICE. Your therapist is not judging you or your outward appearance. Your therapist does not care if you are overweight or underweight (aside from caring about your overall health and well being, of course). Your therapist does not mind if you have not shaved your legs. Your therapist does not mind if you have a mole that you consider unsightly. Your therapist views you from a clinical perspective, like a doctor would. She looks for asymmetry in your posture, decreased range of motion in your body, internal or external rotation of your shoulders or hips, etc. That said, your therapist does not consider you “naked.” To her, the degree to which you are dressed or undressed affects only the massage techniques to be applied and the areas of your muscular body that can be effectively treated.
When determining the extent to which you will undress for your massage, please remember that this is YOUR massage, and you should feel as comfortable as possible. There is no right or wrong. Also remember that you will be covered with a top linen throughout your entire massage session. The only area that will be exposed at any given time is the area that your therapist is working on. Aside from your comfort level, the most important thing for you to consider when making this choice is which areas of your body you want treated. The gluteal muscles (yes, that means your butt) are some of the largest muscles in your body. Tension and tightness in the glutes plays a huge part in low back and hip pain. Removing your underwear so that your therapist has unrestricted access to these muscles will greatly enhance her ability to effectively address these issues. Your massage therapist will not expose the region between your glute muscles. Just to make sure this is coming across perfectly clearly, let me put this bluntly: your butt crack will never be exposed.
The other primary question massage therapists encounter about disrobing is whether the client should remove a bra. Again, I cannot stress this enough, your level of comfort is ALL that matters. However, many clients experience upper back pain and tightness. So please recognize that if you choose to keep your bra on, your therapist may have difficulty effectively releasing adhesions (aka knots) and tension in the upper back muscles. Rest assured, your breast tissue will never be exposed.
Should massage therapy be painful?
The simple answer is: if you want it to be, it should and if you don’t, it shouldn’t.
If you have booked your massage because you are stressed out, not sleeping well, and just need a quiet relaxing hour to yourself, then the answer is, no, your massage should probably not hurt. This type of massage is generally referred to as a Swedish massage. If your therapist is working too deeply or causing you discomfort that you feel that it is not conducive to your therapeutic goals, then speak up. Your therapist will not be offended. He will be grateful that you said something. The last thing massage therapists want is for their clients to leave feeling that the massage they received was not the massage they requested. Additionally, everybody has a different pain threshold. So pressure that may be comfortable for one client may be too light or too deep for you. Always tell your therapist if the pressure is not right for you.
If you have booked a massage because you are in pain and feel knotted and tense, then, yes, there is a good chance that your massage might hurt. This type of massage is generally known as deep tissue. Your therapist will work specific areas with the intent of breaking up adhesions and freeing up fascia. This process might be painful.
But, there is a huge difference between therapeutic pain and pain that is counterproductive. Therapeutic pain is the sort of pain that hurts, but still feels good in that weird sort of way. It feels like spots of tension are being worked and released. You should always be able to breathe through this level of “pain.” Counterproductive pain means that the area is being overworked or is not ready for deep tissue massage. This can lead to inflammation and cause you more discomfort than that what you felt when you came into your massage.
On a pain scale of 1-10, a range of 4-6 is typically a safe and effective level. Allowing your therapist to work at a more intense level than that does not do you or her any favors.
Am I supposed to tip my therapist?
This can be a tough one. A tip is never required. Here are some factors to consider when choosing whether or not you want to tip.
Firstly, does your financial situation allow you to comfortably offer a tip? Massage therapy is not cheap. If giving a tip on top of paying for your massage causes you hardship, don’t do it. It is far more important that you receive massage therapy as often as you need without feeling like you’re supposed to pay over and above the cost of the therapy itself.
Secondly, do you feel that your therapist deserves a tip? Was she attentive and professional? Did she listen to you? Did she alter her pressure when you told her it was too deep, or did she tell you to tough it out? Did she do everything she could to make you feel welcome and at ease?
Tipping is also more customary in certain massage settings than others. Many therapists and massage studios are trying’ to steer the industry away from tipping. Massage therapy is no longer considered “pampering” or a “luxury.” More and more it is being recognized as an important part of self-care and physical and mental health. No one tips their mental health counselor, their dentist, their physical therapist or their chiropractor. In an effort to perpetuate this view, many therapists have made it their policy to not accept tips. This is our policy here at MATRIX.
However, if you are in a resort-like setting, massage still tends to be more of an indulgence and tipping is more common.
One last consideration when deciding whether to offer a tip is whether your therapist works for himself or for someone else. Massage therapists who work for others often do not receive the full cost of the massage. Typically they will receive 40-60% of the cost, but in some places they may receive as little as 30%. If this is the case, if you can comfortably afford it, if you loved every minute of your massage and got off the table feeling like a million bucks, and if it is not against policy to do so, feel free to offer your therapist a tip for a job well done.
I hope this helps get rid of some of those pre-massage jitters! And remember, this massage is your time to receive a healing, therapeutic treatment that best serves you.
So take a deep breath, set your doubts aside, and book a massage!