The whole point of a massage is to relax yourself ― to soothe sore muscles, reduce pain and lower stress. But lying on a massage table with nothing but a sheet between you and a virtual stranger is an experience that leaves both the client and massage therapists vulnerable. Both may be unsure of what to expect, which can lead to a less-than-ideal massage.
As a starting point, Michael Jones, a pain-reduction massage therapist in private practice in San Diego, California, and Bangkok, Thailand, has had “a few uncomfortable situations with clients who misunderstood the professional nature of our service” and expected sexual favors. “The client must be respectful, and the therapist must always maintain professionalism,” he explained.
Here are eight things massage therapists recommend you do to maintain a respectful relationship with your massage therapist and have the best experience possible.
Don’t lie about your medical history.
Most spas ask clients to fill out a form with their medical history before getting on the massage table. Massage therapists aren’t being nosey.
They need to know this information because “with certain conditions, some types of treatment should be avoided,” explained Chernell Bartholomew, a therapeutic massage therapist with Vitality MVMT in Toronto, Canada. “It could be dangerous if you lie about medications or health conditions,” she said.
According to Jones, it’s particularly important to know if a client is taking blood thinners since they can increase the risk of bruising. “Deep tissue or forceful techniques could lead to larger, more painful bruises or internal bleeding” for these clients, Jones explained. Jones also avoids deep pressure massage for clients taking pain relievers such as ibuprofen: “If a client doesn’t feel pain due to the medication, they might not communicate when the pressure is too much, risking injury,” he said. He also needs to know if a client has osteoporosis due to the greater risk of bone fracture with some techniques. Additionally, the Cleveland Clinic emphasizes that it’s important to let your massage therapist know if you are pregnant so that they can position you safely.
Jones has “had instances where clients didn’t disclose medical conditions, which could have led to complications.” Filling out health history forms accurately and completely is “crucial for safety reasons,” he said. He once had a client who did not share that he had a disclosed shoulder until after his massage was over. During the man’s massage, Jones was “performing stretches and putting the arm and shoulder in awkward positions,” which could have caused further damage because Jones was not fully informed about the man’s medical history in advance.
Don’t wear the wrong undergarments.
When getting a massage, it’s usually OK to wear (or not wear) anything that makes you comfortable. However, it’s important to think about how what you wear can affect your massage experience.
Jones explained that when “clients wear undergarments covering areas they want to be massaged, like the lower back,” he can’t access those areas. Bartholomew explained that when clients show up with too many undergarments, “Working with oils, draping body parts and achieving that massage flow is very difficult.”
Sometimes, clients change their minds about wearing undergarments mid-way through a massage when they realize they can’t get the treatment they would like. “I am totally OK with changing your mind … it just takes away from the flow of the massage and changes the energy in the room,” said Emily Knell Spaeth, a pre and post-natal massage therapist with Be Well Baby in Portland, Oregon.
Don’t skip a pre-treatment shower.
Jones has had clients show up smelling bad, like body odor. He says this usually happens when clients don’t build in time for a shower before their massage appointment.
“While I understand life gets busy, basic hygiene is appreciated for both our sakes,” he said. Showing up with body odor isn’t just rude and unpleasant. “The smell of feet and arm armpits can fill up the room and affect the therapist” and ultimately the client’s experience, Jones said.
“At the very least, wear deodorant,” Bartholomew said.
Don’t be late.
Massage therapists often have back-to-back appointments. “Starting late can throw off our entire schedule,” Jones said.
Spaeth explained that massage therapists may resent clients who show up late, especially if it happens repeatedly. “My biggest annoyance is when clients are 15 minutes late for their massage and then expect me to go 15 minutes over to give them the full hour,” she said.
To get the most out of your appointment time, Bartholomew recommends arriving 10-15 minutes early to ensure you have enough time to change and fill out a health history form before your massage, just as you would for a doctor’s appointment. That way, you will be ready to meet with your massage therapist when the clock starts ticking for your appointment. “Don’t stare at the clock and expect us to go over if you are late. Please know what you booked,” Bartholomew said.
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Don’t book a massage without understanding what it is.
“Trying new services is fun, but not understanding what the massage treatment is for, or is not for, is important,” Bartholomew explained. “Relaxation is different than deep tissue. A body scrub and foot mask might not be what you’re looking for to fix your bad back.”
Spaeth recommends that everyone think about why they are coming in for a massage and book appropriately. “Ultimately, you know your body better than anyone else, and you will get the best experience if you know what your goals are for getting a massage,” she said. If you aren’t sure what type of service is best for your particular concerns, ask for a consultation before booking. Most massage therapists are happy to discuss options with you to ensure you get exactly what you want.
Don’t stay mum with your massage therapist.
Speath wants all of her clients to feel comfortable and walk away happy. She stresses this requires open communication. “Be really clear about what you are comfortable with in your body. Where are you comfortable being touched? Is your neck or face off-limits?” she said.
Spaeth also encourages clients to tell their massage therapist if they want more or less pressure. “I promise no massage therapist feels offended by this feedback, ever,” Spaeth said. She adds that some clients wait until the very end of the massage to make a request, such as paying extra attention to their feet. This isn’t a good idea. “I’m out of time by that point,” she said.
“We all just want to make our clients feel really amazing in their bodies, and if we aren’t doing that, we can’t know unless you tell us,” Spaeth explained. “You have to advocate for yourself to get the best experience.”
Don’t show up stressed.
Try to show up ready to relax to get the most out of your massage. Sorangel Payano Santana, a therapeutic massage therapist at Om Spa located within Lopesan Costa Bávaro Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, recommends practicing deep breathing to reach a silent and peaceful state just before entering the treatment room.
“This will elevate your experience and allow for complete relaxation,” she said. She also recommends “making a quick stop at the restroom before your session begins” so that you can relax knowing a bathroom break won’t “interrupt your blissful spa experience.”
Don’t forget the other amenities available for you to use to enhance your spa experience.
Many spas give clients access to relaxation lounges, steam rooms and saunas at no additional cost. Marica Richardson, a therapeutic massage therapist at Releche Spa at Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee, highly recommends leaving yourself time to take advantage of these amenities. She also recommends booking multiple services for the same day.
“Spending a morning or afternoon at the spa will enhance the overall experience while helping guests feel relaxed and rejuvenated,” she said.
She also sees too many clients overlook massage enhancements that may help target their specific concerns. “If a guest arrives for their service in pain, I highly suggest an arnica or CBD enhancement to soothe aches and pains,” she added. “If they are experiencing tension or anxiety, warm stones are the route to go as the heat melts tension out of the muscles and unburden the body and mind.”