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  • Karen Stoner, LMT

What do I need to know before my first massage? (Part 1: The Dos)

What do I need to know before my first massage?

Massage Therapy is a fabulous way to improve your physical and mental health. Whether you are looking to simply relax and relieve stress, or get relief from a new or chronic injury, there is a type of massage that helps just about every condition. However, very often, going to get a massage can seem intimidating. Modern media has often used massage as the butt of jokes, either portraying it as something illicit or something that has such strict decorum rules, that it makes people afraid to try it. So let's take a walk-through of what to expect during a massage therapy session and take away some of the concern about "what to do" and "how to act".

1. Schedule in advance if possible - Depending on the massage therapy business, some places take same-day appointments or walk-ins. This is usually only possible for larger companies or spas that have multiple employees. A solo therapist company may require an appointment 24+ hours in advance to make sure that the time slot and therapist are available for the appointment. Even with a larger company, an appointment ahead of time is still recommended.

A word of advice: Many places will ask for a credit card or a deposit of some sort to hold the appointment or to be charged in case of a no-show or a last-minute "change of mind" cancellation. This is not to be greedy, this protects the business and therapist. If an appointment is on a therapist's schedule, they are counting on working (and getting paid for) that time. A no-show or last-minute cancellation means that not only does that therapist lose out on getting paid, they often can't refill the spot at short notice. If you schedule an appointment, it is respectful and just basically decent to do your best to keep the appointment. Yes, last-minute issues such as illness may come up, but if a cancellation needs to be made, try your best to give as much notice as possible, or ask if the deposit can be applied to a rescheduled appointment. How it is handled is all up to the company's cancellation policies.

What do I need to know before my first massage?

2. Arrive early (but not too early) - Some places may tell you a specific time that they want you to arrive for your appointment. Most places will appreciate it if you arrive 10-15 minutes before the start time of the appointment to give you time to fill out any intake paperwork, or to allow yourself time to relax and not be rushed getting into your massage.

A word of advice: Early is good, but too early often isn't necessary. Unless you know that the place you are going has additional amenities like a spa with a sauna or steam showers, it isn't necessary to show up for your appointment more than 15-20 minutes early. This will usually result in either your having to wait longer before your appointment starts, or it will rush your therapist, causing them to not have time to properly clean or set up their room and table. Showing up super early does not guarantee that you will get taken early or receive extra time.

3. You will likely be asked to fill out some intake paperwork - Either on paper on verbally, you may be asked some questions about your general health, and your reasons for coming in for a massage. You may also be asked about more medical information such as any allergies, medications you may be taking, past surgeries, and more. The information being asked may also vary depending on the type of massage you are receiving. These questions aren't to be invasive, they are so that the therapist can make needed and appropriate adjustments to the massage in order to keep you as safe and healthy as possible.

A word of advice: Don't lie. And don't leave out information at the initial intake, only to bring it up later, or think that what they are asking isn't relevant. Some people omit information because they are either embarrassed, they don't think it's relevant, or they are afraid that if they reveal something, the therapist will turn them away. That last one only happens if something is pretty serious and they know that massage will make the condition worse, so not something to worry about, as long as you are honest. The questions are for your benefit to make sure you get what you need from the session.

4. You will be asked to disrobe to your comfort level - Depending on what kind of massage you are getting, may inform how much clothing you need to take off or leave on. Some modalities can be done fully clothed, but for sake of simplicity, referring to a run-of-the-mill basic massage therapy treatment, you will likely be asked to "disrobe to your comfort level". This means to take off as much clothing as you are comfortable with. If you aren't comfortable taking off underwear or a bra, leave them on. Be assured that your therapist will keep you covered with a sheet or blanket the entire massage, except for any body part they are currently working on.

A word of advice: Massage is a very personal experience, and it can feel very unsettling to take your clothes off and have a stranger touch you. This is why, unless your clothing is in danger of getting soiled or wet, the therapist should be ok with you keeping on anything you feel you need to. However, it is easiest for the therapist to work directly on the skin, so a heavy sports bra, tank top, or leggings, for example, can make it difficult for the therapist to get to the muscles they need effectively. Nonetheless, your comfort and safety is most important, so do what you need to do, but any help you can give the therapist is most appreciated.

5. You will be told by your therapist how to get on the table - Depending on both your therapist and they massage you are receiving, you may be asked to lay on the table either face up, face down, or even possibly on your side. The therapist should tell you how they want you to lay down, then they will leave the room to allow you to get situated.

A word of advice: Listen to them. Even though, some therapists, especially in the middle of a busy day, may breeze through the instructions quickly without realizing it, they will usually tell you how they want you to get situated. Don't be afraid to ask them for clarification if you don't hear them.

What do I need to know before my first massage?

6. During your massage - Your therapist will do their thing. If they ask you about your preferences for pressure, don't be afraid to tell them if their pressure is hurting you, or too light. They will generally let you know if they need you to do anything other than relax.

A word of advice: Relax, they're professionals, and they know what they're doing. Even if you specifically say you have a certain spot that hurts and they aren't working directly on that spot, doesn't mean they are ignoring you. Massage Therapists have tons of training in anatomy and how the muscles work together, and know that sometimes an area of issue isn't where the problem starts, so trust the process - there is a 'method to their madness'. Do however speak up if something doesn't feel right. You should never be in pain or uncomfortable. If that is the case, say something. (Nicely if possible, please!)

7. After your massage - The massage therapist will give you instructions to get off the table slowly, and how to get yourself put back together after your massage is over, then leave the room to let you get up. Every place and therapist is different, so follow their instructions as to what to do. They may give you some advice about what they found or a recap of what they did, along with any suggestions for further treatment or things you can do on your own to continue helping your issue.

A word of advice: Do take your time getting up. Don't jump off the table quickly. People underestimate how relaxed their bodies get while massage is pushing all their muscles and circulatory systems around. Jumping up too quickly may make you lightheaded and you may feel a little wobbly. Get up slowly and drink water afterwards. (Why? Click here to find out)

8. Checking out - Every location is different, so once you are redressed, you are free to settle up and go. Your therapist may walk you to the front desk to check out or not depending on the size and setup of the space. In any case, once you have settled your bill, you are free to go, hopefully feeling much better than when you came in.

A word of advice: The best way to keep the good effects of massage happening is to make massage a regular part of your routine. Your therapist will have advice on the frequency of when you should have another massage based on your goals. The best way to make sure that you can get the time you want for your next appointment, or you don't let scheduling slip your mind, is to schedule before you leave. That takes one less thing off your plate that you have to remember to do. Lastly, a word about tipping. It completely depends on your massage therapy situation. There is a constant debate over if massage therapy is considered a service or medical treatment. It also depends on the location - some places do not allow or accept tips, others expect and rely on them. It never hurts to ask if it is accepted if you feel it is appropriate, but for most smaller independent therapists, the rule of thumb is that tips are not expected but greatly appreciated.

What do I need to know before my first massage?

Every person's reasons for getting a massage are different, just as every therapist and massage therapy business is different. While it may seem intimidating to get going with a massage if you've never had one before, it really isn't an intimidating process if you know what to expect. Overall, there is very little you can do do "mess up" your first massage, and your therapist should be patient and willing to put any concerns or fears to rest to make your experience the best they can.

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