So you want to get a massage…

Probably the single-most soul soothing treat I have given myself in the past year is an appointment for a massage.  I am a Certified Massage Therapist myself, and even though I only practice sporadically currently, I have had my fair share of “hands on” experience with different methods of massage.

Massage therapy is well known as one of the must-haves for muscle pain, relaxation, and general health.  However, the actual process of initiating your first massage therapy session can be quite daunting and if you arrive unprepared, the whole experience can be rather, well, STRESSFUL!  Hopefully, this post can help clear up some of the confusion, and give some insight to what to expect, massage etiquette, heath benefits associated with massage, and the types of massage.

Where to Start?  The best place to find a massage therapist is through word of mouth recommendation.  Sometimes you can get inexpensive massages through a local massage therapy school by calling at the beginning of the semester and getting on a list, but just remember you get what you pay for.  Usually massages are offered for 30 minute, 60 minute (this is what I recommend), and 90 minute.  I have found that an established business usually charges $60-$70 for a 60 minute massage, whereas private therapists charge anywhere from $45-$65 for a 60 minute massage.  You can also look for reviews on yelp.com.  When looking for a massage therapist online, know what you are going to want (relaxation, work on a specific injury, tight muscle release) and look for a therapist who specializes in that.  Also, look for a therapist with lots of experience and that holds a current license.  My current massage therapist has been practicing for almost 40 years and my body can completely tell.

What To Expect.  When you walk in you may have to wait for a minute or two for the therapist to prepare the room from the last client, but arrive a few minutes early because they will probably have some paperwork for you to fill out about any issues you may have.  The therapist should ask you about what type of massage you would like and if you’ve had a massage before.  Also, they should ask for specific requests or more information on the areas you would like the most work on.  They will then take you into the therapy room.  They should tell you to get undressed and get underneath the sheet (probably face down).  There will probably be some nice music playing.  They will knock after they’ve given you some time to get situated.  The technique to keep you covered is called “draping” and the idea is to keep as much of the area to be worked on exposed without exposing “the goods”.  On occasion, I admit I have felt a little uncomfortable with a therapist’s draping, but sometimes you feel more exposed than you actually are.

Attire.  You should be naked!  No, really, if you are uncomfortable, or it’s that time of the month, or you are a guy and you’re afraid of your googly bits hanging out, by all means leave your underoos on, because in the end, it is all about what is makes YOU comfortable!  However, massage therapists prefer if you are completely naked under that sheet.  Nakedness in front of a stranger may seem awkward (if it doesn’t, I need to write a different post for you), but it allows the massage therapists to have a better flow, a better sense of your natural body alignment, and better address any muscular issues you may have.

Positioning.  In a “classic” massage the massage therapist will usually have you start lying prone (on your tummy) with your face in an apparatus called a “face cradle.”  This looks a little like a doughnut cushion with your face in the middle so you can breath, and the practitioner should have placed some sort of a disposable cover over it.  The most important position for your arms and body is the one you are comfortable in.  It is ok to leave your arms by your sides or let them hand off the table.  Sometimes there is an apparatus below your “face cradle” that is an arm rest that you can also lay your arms on. They should tell you how you should be positioned before they leave the room, but you can always ask.  Halfway through the massage they will have you flip over to supine (lying on your back) and they should put a bolster under your knees and a cushion under your head.  For specialty cases, the practitioner may have you in side-lying but they should tell you how to position yourself.  It is very important for you to relax and for the most part let the therapist move your arms and legs as needed.

Talking.  You should be the one to guide whether or not there is a conversation during your massage.  For the most part, you will reap more benefit, especially from a Swedish massage, if you keep the talking to a minimum.  As a massage therapist, I will say, we appreciate feedback.  Especially, if an area feels particularly painful, or a technique feels fantastic.

Types of Massage Therapy

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork have listed 30 nationally recognized techniques and types of massage that you can find here–> http://www.ncbtmb.org/consumers/glossary-therapy-techniques

If you go to a massage therapist and just ask for a “basic massage” they should incorporate many different techniques depending on your needs.  I will try to break down some of the most popular methods…

Swedish Massage –  This is what a “classic” massage is.  If done correctly it is relaxing and you will notice a “flow” from one area to another.  This is what I would recommend for beginners.

Chair Massage -This is what you would normally see being given next to a kiosk at the mall.  These usually last 10-30 minutes seated face forward on a massage chair and you will stay fully clothed.  These are great for a midday refresher to get your energy flowing and relieve muscle tension.

Deep Tissue Massage – This is not necessarily for beginners.  My experience with deep tissue massage is that it can be painful, but is best for chronic muscle pain (in most cases).  In my opinion, anyone who consistently participates in fitness activities should have some deep tissue work done a couple times a year.

Myofascial Release – This is a technique that releases adhesion in the connective tissue that surrounds the outside of the muscle.  Not to be uncouth, but think of the paper-thin, shiny tissue that you find on raw, skinless chicken breast.  That is the fascia.  Sometimes that tissue will get stuck together and bunched up causing movement restriction, pain, and sometime nerve impingement. During myofascial release these areas are gently stretched back into place or released.

Pregnancy Massage-  This is for pregnant or postpartum women and using specific positioning focuses on reducing swelling, low back, hip, and feet pain.

Reiki – This is energy or “look ma, no hands!” therapy.  It promotes healing through movement of energy.

Reflexology – Reflexology is a form of bodywork based on the theory of zone therapy, in which specific spots of the body are pressed to stimulate corresponding areas in other parts of the body. Foot reflexology, in which pressure techniques are applied only to the feet, is the most common form of reflexology.

Rolfing® Structural Integration-  This is a less gentle approach to movement of the fascia tissue to balance the structure and the alignment of the whole body.  Sometimes it will feel like they are pulling and rolling your skin

Shiatsu – This technique is a pretty neat type, originating in Japan.  This is mostly done using finger pressure to different points on the body to balance energy and promote healing.

Sports Massage – Sports massage is applied to athletes to help them train and perform free of pain and injuries. Massage therapists blend classic Swedish strokes with such methods as compression, pressure-point therapy, cross-fiber friction, joint mobilization, hydrotherapy and cryotherapy (ice massage) to meet the special needs of high-level performers and fitness enthusiasts.  This is a quicker, high energy massage to stimulate muscle function and circulation. 

Thai Massage-  In Charlie’s Angels (the one with Drew Barrymore), Lucy Liu quickly switches roles with a Thai massage therapist in order to attack her enemy.  In this scene she holds on to a rod secured to the ceiling and walks on her enemy’s back to emulate a Thai massage.  In an actual Thai massage she would also use hands, fingers, elbows, and knees as well as gentle stretching of the client to balance energy.

Trigger Point Massage-  This technique uses direct pressure to different points in the body that can resonate pain (trigger points) in order to release the fascia and muscle adhesion (those knots in your shoulders).

I hope this has been helpful and please comment with any questions you may have!

Thanks!  Sydney

P.S. My massage therapist is Scott Dorsey, L.M.T. at http://www.healthinhand.com/index.html

He has been a major help in my chronic pain issues and he is probably the most educated and balanced therapist I have worked with.  His wife, Pam Dorsey, L.M.T. is also amazing and does great work for my husband.

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