January 09, 2014

Getting a Massage? Ten Things Your Massage Therapist Wants You to Know

Photo: iamos

Insider tips and secrets are awesome right?

This guest post is on a especially great topic because there is Unspoken Etiquette as well as Possibly Mysterious Procedures which leave many fearful of getting massages.  And even those of us who are greedy massage-junkies eager to jump naked onto a table whenever we can spare the cash? We still have questions and concerns.  What if we are screwing up in some way? Would anyone every tell us? 

This post is written by a massage therapist who is also one of my very favorite fitness bloggers. Her blog is Muscle Milk Is Not a Euphemism which you should definitely check out if you have not already.


Guest Post by Malevolent Andrea

1)   You Don’t HAVE To Have The Nature Music

My mind was blown a couple years ago when an online power-lifting friend said that she’d get massages more often, except that the quote, unquote nature music massage places always play makes her feel twitchy and uncomfortable.  “Dude,” I said, “you know you can ask them to turn off the music or change it, right?”  Her turn for mind=blown. No, she had no idea that was within the realm of possibilities.

Trust me, kids. It’s your massage and your therapist would love to do something as simple as adjust the music if it’s going make you more comfortable. If it’s a private office, your therapist might even be happy to play your own music you brought with you if you ask nicely.  And if it’s a big clinic/spa/massage chain where the music is controlled by the front desk and piped through the whole place, your therapist will at least have a control in the room to lower the volume to “off.” You might in that case still vaguely be able to hear nature music coming from the hallway, but it shouldn’t be enough to make you twitch.

BTW? My power-lifting friend has a firm promise from me that should she ever make it to Boston, I will give her a massage and play Metallica. Because that’s what helps her relax.

2) We're Not Offended If You Fart

My same power-lifting friend also confided that she never, ever let herself fall asleep during a massage, no matter how good it felt or how tired she was. Because she was terrified she’d fart in her sleep.

“Dude,” I said, “it’s a compliment to your therapist if you fart.”  I’m not sure she believed me, but they drilled this into us in massage school. One of the things massage should do is engage your parasympathetic nervous system.  When your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and you’re outta that fight-­or-­flight sympathetic state, your digestive system switches on, leading to things like loud tummy gurgling and passing gas.  In short, if you fart your therapist thinks ah, my work here is done.  Don’t sweat it.

3) It’s Better For Everyone If We're Not Chatting Through The Whole Treatment

Some people are talkers.  We get it.  And if you need to make a little conversation at the beginning of your treatment to get comfortable, that’s fine.  But if you talk through the whole massage, you will never fully relax, your therapist will be distracted, and unless you’re really quiet, the guy getting massaged in the room next door is probably gonna hate your guts.

4) “Undress To Your Comfort level” Has Its Limits

That phrase is massage-­speak for “leave your underpants on or take them off, I couldn’t care less because you’re going to have a sheet over you anyway.”  It does NOT mean that if you’re a woman and you want your back worked on (everyone wants their back worked on), it’s okay to
keep your bra on or if you’re a guy with messed up hammies or IT bands, you wear your boxer briefs.  Boxer briefs are the devil. True fact.  We can work around that shiz, but it’s unnecessarily aggravating.

5) We Aren’t Judging Your Body

We see and feel a lot of bodies.  We’ll notice if you’re boney or hairy or fat or buff, but we don’t care, other than in how it affects what techniques we use.  (Hairy peeps need more lubricant, for example.)  If I had a nickel for every client who apologized to me because they hadn’t shaved their legs or because they were overweight and they thought that meant more work for me or because their feet were “gross”, I’d...have enough money to go get coffee. But seriously, even one nickel’s too much. Nothing about your body is disgusting and as long as you’ve bathed in the last reasonable interval, your therapist isn’t thinking any bad thoughts about it.

6) A Problem You’ve Had For Six Years Is Not Gonna Be Fixed In One Visit

This should be self-­evident but somehow it isn’t. Sigh.

7) There’s Such a Thing As Overworking The Tissue

You can book a 90 minute massage and demand your therapist work only on that spot in your left shoulder that’s bothering you, and she might even do it, but you’ll be bored, she’ll be bored, and your shoulder is almost certain to feel worse afterwards. More is not better. Better is better. Not to mention that, um, as they taught us in massage school, it’s all connected.  If you’ve got pain in your rhomboids in your upper back, I can pretty much guarantee you that your pecs are also tight and pulling your shoulders forward.  So even though they may not be consciously hurting, trust me and let me stretch them out for you instead of insisting we work on nothing but your upper back. You’ll feel better in the long run.

8) There’s Also Such A Thing As Warming Up The Tissue

You want deep tissue. You like a lot of pressure.  Fine.  That does NOT mean that I can go in full force the second I place my hands on you. The muscles need to be warmed up before I can get in there and if I try to go in too quick and too hard, it’s just going to hurt.  In an unpleasant way. So, please, don’t say you want more pressure within the first two minutes of your massage.  I literally had one client who asked me to go deeper when I was just applying lotion.  I was like, honey, we have not even started your massage yet.  ZOMGWTF.  Don’t be that person, okay?

9) Your Massage Is NOT Supposed To Feel Like You’re Being Tortured

This is the big one.  I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but somehow a whole bunch of people have become mistakenly convinced that therapeutic massage is supposed to be excruciatingly painful and that if it’s not, it’s not going to fix anything.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, sometimes during a therapeutic/deep tissue/sports massage, your therapist may need to do some things that are uncomfortable.

Trigger point work, for example. When you’re treating a trigger point it hurts...until it releases. It’s sorta like ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, awwwwwwww, yeahhhh.  Sometimes you have to do something that’s uncomfortable that doesn’t lead to immediate relief like, say, stripping a forearm.  When my favorite massage school teacher used to demo a technique like that, just as you, the test dummy, were gritting your teeth and wondering why you raised your hand and volunteered, she’d switch over to something infinitely soothing and luscious­ feeling. “Making nice to the muscle,” as she termed it. Why? No, no, no, not just so we would all continue raising our hands and volunteering.  Because it’s good technique.

When you’re doing something painful, if necessary, the muscle’s gonna “think” it’s being attacked and tighten up more.  If you make nice to it afterwards, it’ll be all “oh, okay, nothing to worry about” and it’ll relax.  (Yes, I do anthropomorphize everything. Shut up.)  If you spend twenty or forty straight minutes during a massage doing stuff your client has to grit their teeth through and you never mix it up with more soothing work, chances are high they’re going to leave feeling worse than when they came in, and even higher that they’ll be in complete spasm the next day.  That is not a goal to work towards, yo.

10)  You Can Try To Step-­by-­Step Direct Your Massage, But It’ll Make Us Want To Stick An Elbow Through Your Spine

You’re tense. You’re very tense. Part of the reason you’re very tense is because you are, OMG, so very very Type A and you can never just relax and give up control, not the tiniest bit of control, not for one tiny little minute.  So you feel compelled to tell your therapist what to do when and how and for how long, never mind that he has spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars at massage therapy school and has a license and a bunch of initials after his name and you don’t.  I’d say “don’t be that person” again, but seriously? If you are that person, you can’t help it. Not without lots and lots of therapy of the non-­massage variety.  So, y’know, just don’t come see me. Because, seriously, you, sir or madam, would test the patience of the Dalai Lama himself and I am no Dalai Lama.

Namaste, muthafukkers.


  1. I can't tell you how relieved I am about the leg shaving and farting info! That last one is my worst nightmare. I have been known to ruin a perfectly good massage by clenching my asscheeks in self-defense if I've made an especially poor meal selection earlier. Thanks for all the other tips too!

    1. Hi Crabby! Thanks again for letting me guest-post.

      One little secret I didn't mention is that we therapists are totally paranoid about our meal selection before we go to work. Because while it is not rude for *the client* to fart during the massage, the MT really should avoid it.

  2. I love massages (sadly I don't get as often as I would like!)!! This list of things to know is awesome!! I had one massage therapist that talked to me the entire time - it was sort of odd but she also stretched the hour into 90 minutes so I let it go!!!
    Now I really feel the need for a massage!!

    1. Hahaha. I had a talker once too. She also liked to put my body back together...aka rolfing. I am sure there is a time and place for rolfing and a right and a wrong way, but in that particular case it fell under torture.

      Nice gal actually. Not the right match for my body.

    2. Good point! My go-to guy on the east coast used to restrict his chatting to the first few minutes, but the more he feels we are friends the longer he talks! But he goes for 80 minutes on an hour appointment, and charges less than most do for 60 and he is AWESOME so I supply a few monosyllabic replies every now and then as I don't want to do anything to disturb the status quo. :)

  3. This is a relief to read, as I currently have a gift certificate for a massage and should call, but am hesitant because, well...this post! I'm going to make my appointment (and shave my legs - it's time for their winter weekly mowing anyway).

  4. Here is where I admit that I have the most adolescent of humors. I had a great cackle at the farting. I figured it probably wouldn't be the first time it happened, should I happen to relax too much. But it never fails that the day I'm in for a massage is the day when my stomach is in bubbles.

  5. Bless Metallica. So rarely do I hear of anyone that has the Metallica love. :) It is always so fun to hear from different massage therapists.

    I have given up apologizing for the state of my body. However, I once had a wart and put duct tape on it for a massage. Easy to go over and keeps the wart to itself.

  6. I have a burning question that has bothered me for years. I once went for a massage with a friend at the place she goes. I had a massage that was different than any I had had before, but I have not had that many massages. Is it normal to have your butt cheeks massaged? My friend says it is normal but I have never had that happen before.

    1. I can't speak from the therapist perspective Cindy but I generally get my glutes done--most therapists who do it ask me first--though I've had some who figure as long as you are draped you won't mind. It is kinda weird at first to have a stranger kneading your ass though!

    2. Mine was bare hand to bare butt, no warning. She was an old lady so I don't think she was up to anything. I was just surprised and wondering if she knew what she was doing. The few massages I have had haven't done much for me and neither did her massage so I started to suspect that she might not be properly trained or maybe she was trained. I don't know!

    3. I should clarilfy mine is bare-assed grabbing too, but I figure if no one's looking, what the hell. But all as part of a great massage--if you're not getting anything out of it CIndy something's definitely amiss!

    4. Cindy, it's definitely normal to work glutes, either skin-to-skin or through the drape. If you have any lower back pain, you probably need glute work. If you have hip or hamstring issues, you probably need glute work. Basically, most of us could benefit from some glute work. But because it is a little more intimate part of the body, many therapists won't do it the very first time they work on a particular client, especially if the client isn't someone who's had a lot of massages. And, as Crabby said, a lot of therapists will ask beforehand just to make sure you aren't uncomfortable with it.

    5. Thanks for putting my mind at ease. I did mention lower back pain before I got the massage and I have super tight hip flexors so I guess I better start asking for a butt massage.

  7. I love this & I need a massage!!! :)

  8. If i can ever afford one, i'll keep these in mind.

  9. In my limited experience with massage, it's always been very pleasant! With my extensive experience with massage therapists, I consider many of them my closest friends :-)

  10. I've only ever had one massage and I was just a very few pounds overweight at the time (more so, now). I did make some self-deprecating remark about the weight and the massage therapist kind of lifted a small roll of fat and he said "yes, and what are you doing about it?" That made it my first and last massage. Try and feel relaxed after that.

    I giggled over your sign out. :)

    1. Oh, that makes me so mad :-( Please don't let one giant douche sour you from ever getting another massage. I promise that is such an aberration.

  11. Yes, one of these years I'll get around to trying massage. Saving money and time for more essential things, like getting back to a yoga class after nearly ten years. My practice is getting very very stale. Maybe it's because of thirty years of yoga that none of these issues ever occurred to me. (Music? What?)
    But if I ever get back to Boston, be prepared to play Mozart. :)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

    1. I would be honored to play Mozart for you, Mary Anne!

  12. i so want a massage by Andrea like, NOW! great article!

  13. Haha, that's awesome! I've always wanted to have a professional massage but A) they're expensive and B) I'm freaked about someone seeing me naked. That makes me feel a little better.

  14. Aaaahhh massages... Love them.

    And personally, when I fall asleep, I drool. ;-)

    Seriously though, I fall asleep on the dentist's chair! So imagine a massage!

  15. I think I drool when I get a massage, half the time I think I fall asleep, I figure if you can handle rubbing my naked body and not enjoying it, you won't care if I am snoring.

    On a side note, I love the oriental music they place at acupuncture, I keep trying to get my acupuncturist to make me a copy so I can actually sleep at night

  16. Excellent post! My first massage I was so scared about the farting I was taking Beano like Skittles before the appointment lol.

  17. This terrific post is exactly the kind of info that not only helps the clients, but helps them maybe go from being "potential" clients to "actual" clients :) Thanks!

  18. Great guest post!!!

    I love my MT! She knows that I am a delicate peach who does not shave and has not once run screaming from the room. Shocking!

    Glute massage is one of my favourite parts of the experience...sometimes I am tempted to ask for an hour of foot massage. But now I know that would be wrong.

  19. This is such good information, Andrea! I've had excruciating headaches for years, due to muscle spasms that kill my back. I dream of massages but I haven't had one since I was 14. I got a pre-Nationals massage from a very large, very rough woman, left there pummeled and horrified. Still resistant, after more than 40 years, despite the fact that I know that was an aberration.


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)