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A Guide to Getting Better Massage Therapy Results

Hello, this blog post is for all you seasoned massage clients as well as those who are brand new to massage. I’ve been a massage therapist for almost 20 years and I always find it remarkable when I ask a new client how they like their pressure during a massage (light, moderate, deep) and they respond, "I don't know, nobody has ever asked me that" (insert mind-blown emoji here). Communication between you and your massage therapist is key and this blog post is meant to help you as a client set your expectations before receiving a massage, and to give you the courage to ask for what you want.

Before your massage

You should expect to fill out an intake form that covers basic medical information and asks for your signature, aka your consent to receive therapeutic massage. My intake form has three sections; personal info, medical info and massage info where I ask your preferences regarding pressure, goals for the treatment, allergies or sensitivities to oils/aromatherapy, areas you don't want massaged (like feet, face, abdomen) and any current areas of discomfort or pain. Even if you are just doing a little 15-minute chair massage there should be some level of a verbal intake before your treatment. This step falls under the “do no harm” part of our job and it’s pretty important.

Before my client gets on the table, I always ask them how their body is feeling that day. I also ask if there’s an area they want me to focus on, and if they want a full-body massage or want me to just focus on their upper or lower body. If your therapist doesn't ask you, by all means feel free to tell them you'd like the whole hour spent on your back and neck. Or maybe you are training for a big race and just need your legs worked out. Same goes if you are super ticklish on your feet...don't suffer through a foot massage. If you have areas that you don't want touched or areas that you protect for some reason tell your therapist to avoid or approach those areas differently. You should always feel like you are in control, safe, heard, comfortable, and unexposed during your massage.

During your massage

In the first 10-ish minutes your massage therapist will likely check in with you regarding pressure (especially if you are a new client), and at that time feel free to let them know if they need to back off a little or increase the pressure. If your massage is too deep, you'll find yourself fighting back and tensing up because the massage is painful. You should be able to take nice deep breaths and relax all your muscles while getting a massage. Pressure preference varies widely from person to person, so communicating what you enjoy most will definitely steer your massage in the right direction. If your massage therapist doesn't check in with you, don’t hesitate to pipe up and let them know. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of assuming what type of pressure my regular clients prefer. On days when my communication skills are on point, I will ask “what kind of pressure sounds good today”, because sometimes your preferences are based on your mood that day, and it may be different from the last time you were in. You can always say things like; “Can you go lighter today, I’m in the mood for a more relaxing massage”, "My shoulders were really sore after our last massage, can you ease up on them this time?" or “I think my shoulders could use extra work and pressure today, feel free to dig in and I’ll tell you if it’s too much”. I know it can feel awkward asking us to adjust something that we are doing but believe me we appreciate the feedback, and we want you to be happy.

If your massage therapist has hit 'the spot' that's been giving you trouble, let them know. Sometimes we work on an area that recreates the pain you've been having or refers pain into that area. Letting us know that we are in the right spot allows us to really focus on areas that need more attention. Again, our goal is to help you feel better so don't feel like you're telling us how to do our job. I personally love the feedback!

Have you ever gone in for a massage only to have your massage therapist talk your ear off? I have plenty of clients who have come to me simply because their prior massage therapist just talked too much for their liking, so I feel it's important to bring up. There are three types of clients out there - those that talk the entire massage, those that barely say a word and likely fall asleep a few times, and then there is the combo-client that wants to catch up for a few and then relax. You have the right to be whatever version of that you want. You are paying for the massage; you get to decide how much chit-chat happens. Your massage therapist should take cues from you regarding conversation, and if they aren't picking up what you're laying down then you can just say, "I'm feeling a little tired today, I might just zone out and try to sleep." What should never happen is to have your massage therapist yammer on about themself and their life and treat you like a captive audience for them to vent to. Not only is that very unprofessional but it puts you (the paying client) in an awkward situation. You aren’t paying someone to dump their troubles on you, on the other hand, if you want to talk and release some emotions while receiving a massage that's your prerogative and can be very therapeutic.

Lastly, to really drive home this section on communication I’d like to share a real-life quote from one of my clients,

“Can you work on my neck, head and jaw for 30 minutes and then really dig into my shoulders and upper back, but go lighter on my legs and arms? I don’t need a bolster, and can you please turn off the table warmer and music because I’m already warm and the music is distracting. Oh, and please don’t get oil in my hair because I just washed it, and I’m going out after this so can I not be face down for very long, I don’t want to get those lines on my face and mascara everywhere.”

High maintenance? Nope. They just know what they want and I’m more than happy to accommodate. Don’t ever feel like you are at the mercy of what your massage therapist feels like doing that day. Alternatively, if you’re a newbie to the massage world and don’t really know what you want then by all means let them take the reins. Most practiced massage therapists are pretty intuitive and can feel right away what needs attention.

After your massage

Take it easy and relax. Often times we don’t have that luxury in our schedules but try not to plan anything too strenuous/stressful that might undo all the good that the massage did. Hydrate before and after your massage because drinking extra water supports your body’s natural elimination and detoxification pathways. If you’ve had deep massage work done or it’s been a while since your last treatment you can expect to be a little sore the next day. Typically, the achiness feels like you had a tough workout and are sore from it. If you’re sore for more than a couple days, your therapist probably needs to reel it back next time. Ice anything that might be sore, take an Epsom salt bath (or do a float session), move your body and stretch a bit. I personally like to chase my massages with a leisurely walk and a liter (or two) of water.

Whether you are on vacation trying to de-stress with a relaxing massage or are getting clinical treatment for an injury, you should expect clear communication from your massage therapist. My hope is that this post will lead to better massages, longer-lasting results, and stronger client/therapist relationships.

As always, I would love to hear your feedback. What did I miss, anything you would add to this? Have you ever had a massage therapist communicate with you like this, or just not at all? Do you feel more empowered to communicate with your massage therapist after reading this?

Much love.

PS - if your massage therapist ever does anything inappropriate or sexual in nature you should report them to your State's Massage Board so that they can investigate them. Reporting misconduct to their employer or the police is also good but often times less effective than going to the governing body responsible for licensing.

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