By Cath Cox, LMT
Massage is a highly personal service, because each client’s needs are unique. What one person loves, the next may not. Knowing what to ask prior to booking, being prepared for your appointment, and communicating with your therapist during the session improves the chances that you’ll be happy with the massage you receive.
Before the Session
How Long Will It Last?
Knowing how much treatment time you’ll be getting is the first step to deciding what you want. Many 1-hour sessions are actually 50 minutes of hands-on massage time with 5 minutes before to discuss your expectations, priorities, and concerns, and 5 minutes after for you to get dressed and leave the room so the therapist can set up for their next appointment. If you’re unsure how much massage time you’re entitled to, call for verification. In many instances, sessions can be lengthened to accommodate more relaxation time or more focus on a particular area.
What Are Your Goals?
Once you know how much time you’ll receive, determine your goals for the session. This attention to detail prior to booking is key to getting the experience you’re looking for. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is it you want from your massage?
- Is your priority to zone out and relax, or to resolve pain?
- Is it more important you receive a full-body massage or that the therapist address specific areas on your body that need more attention?
- Are you open to energy work and more subtle forms of the healing arts, or do you prefer a more straightforward, traditional approach?
It’s important to consider these questions before you make your appointment, because different goals require different treatment methods. Here are some other things to consider as well:
- If you want a full-body massage with some extra time on a problem area, 50 minutes may not be enough to accomplish that.
- Deeper work usually takes more time, since each layer of muscle must let go before the one under it can be reached.
- A chronic injury that has persisted for years may take several sessions to address.
Being realistic about your expectations will make your experience better.
Check out your therapist’s website for their bio. Most massage therapists receive similar basic training, then develop various specialties once in practice. Also, look for an online intake form to complete before your appointment. If there isn’t an intake form on the website, chances are you’ll have one to fill out once you arrive. It’s wise to be 10 minutes early for your first appointment so you don’t miss out on any massage time doing paperwork.
After you’ve gone over the intake form together and answered a few questions, you should be informed about the plan for your session. If you’re unclear about what type of massage you’ll receive, ask something like, “So will I be getting a full-body massage or will just my back or other areas be addressed?” Establish a plan with your therapist that you both agree to. If you need clarification about what you should do once your therapist leaves the room, ask to what level you should get undressed. Some techniques can be more fully approached and effective if you completely remove your clothing—but always only undress to your level of comfort; therapists can always adjust their techniques.
During the Session
A full-body Swedish and relaxation massage generally includes neck, back, arms, hands, legs, and feet (left, right, front, and back). This means that each area will receive 3–5 minutes of massage during a 50-minute session. If that doesn’t sound like enough time for you, you should be able to book a longer session, add more time to a gift certificate and pay the difference (this should be done when you make your appointment), or request a partial-body massage from your therapist. Common examples of partial-body requests are just the back of the legs and torso or upper body only. You may be asked if you are comfortable having your upper chest and gluteal muscles worked on. Be honest about whether work in those areas is OK or if it makes you uncomfortable. Most massages don’t include abdominal work, so if that’s something you want, you should ask for it. Scalp and face work may also be optional, so be sure to request those if you’ll miss them should they be left out.
During your massage, ask for what you need. If the pressure doesn’t feel effective or hurts too much, don’t be shy about asking for changes. Keep communicating until you’re satisfied. Every client is different, so if this is your first time working with your therapist, they may not immediately know what feels right to you. If the work on an area of your body you really want addressed feels like it is over but you want more time spent there, ask if there will be more time spent there later on in the massage. If the answer is no, ask for more. This may mean your session plan will change.
If your therapist asks for feedback, be honest. Expecting them to know you don’t like something is not rational. Telling your therapist anything other than what you think they want to hear may be awkward, but that’s how they learn what works for you. Taking the time to consider what you want from a massage and being willing to ask for it pays off. You’ll leave feeling good and confident that your time and money were well spent. Receiving the bodywork that’s right for you allows you to reap all the therapeutic benefits you deserve to feel your best.