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  • Karen Stoner, LMT

Massage Tips and Trivia: You don't always have to undress to receive a massage

"You don't always have to undress to receive a massage - chair massage and other modalities can be done over clothing."

Massage Therapy can be a very personal thing. A person is basically revealing their body to a stranger, standing over them, putting their hands on them. This level of "invasion of personal space" can truly have an affect on how comfortable people are with getting a massage. If someone has a history of physical abuse, the thought of someone putting their hands on them - even if it is for a good reason - can be horrifying. This can go for any part of the massage process. I have heard people reply that they do not like to get massages because they are uncomfortable taking off their clothes. This could be due to discomfort about their own body image, religious reasons, past trauma, today's movies and tv shows portraying massage disrespectfully, or just being unsure what to expect from a massage. These are all perfectly justifiable concerns, and can be managed to still allow massage.

Before discussing what can be done regarding massage and a non-removal of clothing, I do want to take a second to clarify the reasons behind why disrobing is usually a part of a massage treatment. While therapists can work over clothing, being in contact with the skin itself, with no barriers, allows the therapist to get a better sense of what the muscles beneath the skin need, and how the body is responding to the massage work. We can better feel the tissue softening, if there is a particular tight spot that needs extra focus, and determine and execute the best course of treatment and what is needed. While a massage is in session, clients are usually asked to "disrobe to their comfort level". This means the client is asked to remove as much clothing as they are comfortable removing. Some people opt to leave on their underwear or bra, some feel better leaving on a light shirt. The therapist's job is easier when they can work directly on the skin without clothing as a barrier, however more than anything, the therapist's #1 concern is their client's comfort and well-being, so the therapist should be able and willing to adapt as needed around clothing.

That being said, there are multiple modalities that can be done without the need for disrobing. The most common form is chair massage - massage done in a specially designed chair that allows for work on, mainly, the back, neck, and shoulders and doesn't require the removal of clothes - which is why it is often the type of massage used at offices, health fairs, and public spaces like airports. There are multiple other forms of massage including energy work modalities like Cranio Sacral Therapy of Reiki that do not require the removal of clothing, all with their own focuses and for specific needs or areas of concern.

So whatever the reasons for someone not wanting to receive massage because of the removal of clothing, there are ways to alleviate those concerns, and still allow for someone to receive the many benefits of massage therapy. The best way to make sure concerns are handled and the best treatment can be given is through good, clear communication and understanding between both therapist and client.

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