Your Massage Session

Dialing in the Details for a Great Experience

By Karrie Osborn

A woman lying on a table receiving a neck massage from a massage therapist.

These basic bodywork etiquette guidelines will help you get the most out of your massage, create a healthy client-therapist relationship, and address some of those unknowns.

It’s All About Timing

Be good to yourself, and show up a few minutes early for your session. This allows you to transition into calm, healing space and focus on the massage. It also ensures you’ll receive your full time allotment for the massage.

When scheduling at a spa, most guests are asked to arrive early to prepare for their session, stow belongings, and even enjoy the facility’s amenities, such as a steam room, before the scheduled service begins. New massage clients will also need to fill out health history intake forms.

If you do get held up in traffic and arrive late to your appointment, the therapist will probably not be able to give you a full session. Respect your therapist’s time, call if you’re going to be late, and understand that your session must end on time, regardless of when you arrived.

When it comes to cancellations, most spas and private practitioners require a 24-hour notice to avoid fees. Every situation is different, so check with your therapist about his or her specific cancellation policy, and then honor it.

Honor Your Body

Some people have a hard time even considering massage because they are so unhappy with their body. Primarily a female issue, poor body image can be extremely damaging. While it’s hard to imagine that taking your clothes off and lying on a massage table will make the situation any better, massage therapy can do wonders to bring an individual back into body awareness. Bodywork can help mend the body-mind chasm that is created through self-hate, bringing the two pieces back together in a peaceful, healthy union.

Massage therapists and bodyworkers not only have advanced knowledge of tissues and structure, they also have a great appreciation for the human body as a whole, no matter its shape or size.


One thing that will make your massage both more enjoyable and more beneficial is communicating with your therapist. If the room is too warm, if the bolster under your legs isn’t in the right spot, if the music is driving you batty—whatever the issue—let your therapist know right away so you can get back to the business of enjoying your massage.

Skip Alcohol for Water

In resort settings, it can be hard to step away from icy margaritas on the beach to make that afternoon spa appointment. But the last thing you want is to be “tipsy” on the massage table. There are several downsides to being under the influence during a massage, the most important being how alcohol wreaks havoc with the body and can have a negative interaction when combined with bodywork. The result can be dizziness and nausea. That’s no fun and a waste of good massage time and money. Leave the alcohol for another time. Water, before and after a therapeutic massage, is what the body really wants.

Won’t Find That Here

It’s unfortunate that massage therapists even have to address this subject, but they do. So the answer to late-night callers is, “No, we don’t give happy endings. No, you may not pleasure yourself. Therapeutic massage has nothing to do with sex.” If a misinformed client somehow ends up in the massage room of a professional therapist and asks for something other than therapeutic massage, they will be asked to leave. Flirting, inappropriate touching, and sexual innuendos will not be tolerated. Keep the relationship professional and above board and your therapist will be a valuable member of your healthcare team.

You’re Human

The body can have a lot of responses to therapeutic massage. While avoiding food at least one hour before your massage will help, there’s still the chance that you’ll have tummy gurgles or even pass gas. It’s okay. As the body relaxes and systems get moving, the body can play all kinds of tricks. Your therapist has seen it all, yet sees well beyond those kinds of issues.

For men, there’s even a possibility that massage will cause an erection—a normal response to nervous system activation. It rarely occurs, but if it does, your therapist will likely shift the focus of the work.

Time To Wake Up

While a nap after your massage may sound lovely, other massage clients will be arriving soon and the room must be readied for them. When your massage concludes, your therapist will say something along the lines of, “Our session is over. Take your time getting up.” That’s your cue to take a moment as you come back to the here and now. Carefully sit up, allowing your body enough time to readjust. Go slow or else your body will knock you for a dizzying loop. Also, be careful not to slip getting off the massage table, especially if your therapist used oil on your feet.

Insights on Tipping

While it’s customary to tip 15-20 percent, most experts say it’s ultimately the client’s decision. Like in other service industries, providing a tip is usually done in response to excellent service. A couple of notes: Many therapists who work in spas earn only a small percentage of what you’ve paid for their services. For these therapists, tips are an important part of their income. On the other hand, tips are usually not accepted for massage performed in a medical environment. Unsure what to do? Ask if tipping is customary and what is the policy.