What to expect from your first massage

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My appointment schedule at the start of a new year tends to be busy with first-time massage clients. Whether they are coming in with a holiday season gift certificate, working on their resolution to make more time for self care, or looking to treat shoveling soreness, icy slip and fall injuries, or a host of other winter aches and pains, a lot of people on my table from January through March are getting their first ever massage.

If you, dear reader, are new to the world of massage therapy, have been thinking about scheduling a session, but have held off because you are nervous or do not know what to expect, this post is for you. I will try to cover everything I can think of that would be useful for first-time clients, but if you have any questions, feel free to comment below. I am always happy to answer questions about massage!

When should I get there?

Check the policy for your specific massage location. I always schedule a decent buffer between my appointments so that if someone is running a little late, we will not feel rushed for time. Some places will ask you to arrive 10-15 minutes early to complete intake paperwork. If they schedule their sessions back-to-back without a break, then arriving even a little late may cut into your massage time. If you cannot find any mention of a specific policy, a safe bet is to arrive about 5-10 minutes before the start of your session.

What do I have to do?

You will need to complete an intake form at the start of your session. An intake will ask you to provide your contact information, a simple medical history, a list of any current conditions, injuries, pain, discomfort. You may be asked about any medicines you are currently taking, allergies you have, your stress level and exercises or activities that you perform on a regular basis. You will also be asked to sign a waiver stating that you understand the nature of the work being provided and have informed your therapist of any potential health risks or concerns.

What should I wear during my massage?

That is entirely up to you and your comfort. Most people undress down to their underwear. I usually recommend that my female clients remove their bras, because it is not particularly comfortable to lie around in your bra, and it makes it easier to work the whole back that way. (A note to breastfeeding women: your therapist should be able to provide some pads or towels to allow you to comfortably lie on the table without your bra and without worry!) You will be under drapes (sheets, blankets, towels in some spas) throughout your massage. If you do not feel comfortably covered, ask for additional draping. Any place that refuses to take your comfort and modesty into account is not a place where you should get a massage. Additionally, your therapist should leave the room when you are changing and wait for you to get situated under the draping before they return. You should not be expected to undress in front of your therapist. If you are expected to, leave right then and there.

Will the massage hurt?

The thought that a massage will be painful seems to be the number one reason why people avoid getting massages. Massages do not have to hurt. Certainly a relaxing, Swedish massage session should not be painful. There are still lots of benefits to be gained from a lighter pressure massage (improving circulation, reducing stress, decreasing muscle tension and improving flexibility, to name a few). A massage with deeper pressure will more directly target areas of tension and muscle soreness. This can be uncomfortable or hurt a bit, but should only do so as is tolerable to you. Any hurt should feel like a “good hurt.” I tell my clients to think of that like you would with stretching a muscle. Sometimes it can hurt to stretch, but it hurts in a good way that feels productive and manageable. If you feel sharp pains during your massage, or feel that you are tightening your muscles against the pressure because of the pain, then that is too much pressure for you. Ask your therapist to make adjustments. In general, I like to keep my first-time clients at a medium to firm pressure at most. It can take a few sessions to really get used to deeper pressure. You need to do what feels right for you and your body on that day. Any good massage therapist will be able to adjust pressure and techniques as needed for your comfort.

I hate having my feet touched. Do I have to do a full body massage?

Nope. Tell your therapist what areas you prefer to have worked the most, which ones you want avoided and any that are ticklish or sensitive to touch.

I did not shave my legs before my session. I have not had a pedicure in months. What if my feet stink?

So what, who cares? I constantly have people apologizing to me about their bodies. Do not worry about your body. Your body is fine. It is my job to touch people’s bodies. I chose this job. Your hairy legs do not bother me. Your unpainted toe nails definitely do not bother me. Also, pretty much everybody’s feet stink, so you are in good company. Just relax and enjoy your massage. A busy massage therapist is going to touch so many bodies in a week that even if there was something weird or somewhat unpleasant about yours, odds are we will forget about it completely within a few days. All bodies are weird. Do not let that concern stop you from getting a massage.

Should I tip?

This is a tricky one and kind of depends on where you are getting your massage. If you go to a spa, a wellness center, a massage collective, or any place with multiple therapists then yes, you absolutely should tip. Those therapists work on commission or an hourly wage. They need their tips. I work for myself. I charge $85 for an hour-long massage. Sure there are some overhead costs–rent, supplies, general business expenses–but for the most part, I am pocketing most of that amount for each of my sessions. When I worked in a spa, I made $18 an hour. Same work, same amount of time, way less money. I am always appreciative and flattered when I receive a tip, but I do not expect it, nor am I angry when I do not get one. If you are seeing an independent practitioner, feel free to ask him/her about tipping (some independent therapists do not accept tips), but if you get a massage at a spa, tip every time, and tip well. Massage therapy is hard work.

What if I went in armed with all of this useful information, but I still hated my massage or felt uncomfortable?

You could try a different therapist. No two therapists are exactly alike and getting a good massage has a lot to do with finding a therapist whose style matches yours. Ask around for recommendations. It is also highly possible that massages just are not your thing. That is okay. We all find different things relaxing. My husband absolutely loves it if you run your hands through his hair. It instantly calms him. My sister, on the other hand, not a fan. Different strokes for different folks. If you tried massage once and hated it, I say try again. If you tried twice and still really hated it, then massage therapy probably is not for you. Relaxation is important, though. So even if massage does not help you relax, I encourage you to keep searching for something that does.

{Image Credit: Urban Row Photography}




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