Although massages are supposed to be about relaxation, many people find themselves anxiously wondering about how to conduct themselves during their treatment. Should you shave your legs? Should you chat with the massage therapist? Just how naked are you supposed to be?
To deliver some pre-massage peace of mind, we talked to Shannon Merten, a licensed massage therapist who works out of her home.
How clean should I be?
“Showering that day is preferable,” Shannon said, and not just because it’s more comfortable for the therapist. When your skin is clean, it will better absorb the lotions and oils used during your massage.
Should I shave my legs beforehand?
“This is an often brought-up topic,” Shannon said. “Not shaving for a few days or even weeks is no reason for hand-wringing … I can’t even tell the difference.”
What kind of information should I share with my massage therapist before my massage begins?
In order to get the most out of your massage, Shannon recommends being as specific as possible with your health history. Definitely tell your therapist about any major ailments or issues you are having at that time. Information about your daily activities can also be helpful—for example, are you an avid runner? Do you travel often for work? The more your therapist knows, the better she’ll be able to customize your experience.
Should I get totally naked?
This is an area where Shannon lets the customer take the lead. “I inform my clients that they can undress to their comfort level, and that they will be draped for the entirety of the massage.”
If you’re having lower-back issues, though, consider the benefits of being in the buff: “I recommend removing underwear because a glute massage is essential for these types of ailments. And if you’ve never had your glutes and hips worked on, I highly recommend it. There are so many thick muscles in these areas, muscles that hardly ever get attention, and they all criss-cross and cause serious lower-back and hamstring issues.”
During my massage, should I be quiet, or making small talk?
Whatever makes you most comfortable! “If they’re asking questions or bring[ing] up a topic, I will answer or join in. If they’re quiet, I remain quiet. I think some people get nervous, so they may be a bit chatty.” According to Shannon, most clients make small talk for the first 20–30 minutes, then zone out for the remainder of the massage.
How do I (politely) let a massage therapist know that what they’re doing doesn’t feel good?
“I would rather my clients leave happy and satisfied than not, so if [the therapist] is doing something that is not enjoyable, a good ‘that’s a little too much pressure’ or ‘that area is too sensitive to be worked on’ should get you satisfying results,” Shannon said.
Am I supposed to tip my massage therapist? If so, how much?
According to Shannon, a 15–20% tip is appropriate. And remember: if the massage is discounted, you should tip 15–20% of the full price, not the discounted price.
15 Things Your Massage Therapist Wants You to Know
By Kelli Boylen
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn 2011. Copyright 2011. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
1. I am not a masseuse, and, no matter how cool you think that word sounds, your massage therapist probably doesn't like it. Massage parlor is rather outdated as well. In years past, some "massage parlors" were really fronts for sex shops and I did not take out student loans and complete more than 850 hours of training to be associated with prostitution. Trust me--I'm pretty serious about it. Jokes about "happy endings" are outdated as well.
2. Please be on time. We really like to work on you for the entire scheduled time. We often have another client coming in right after you, so it is unlikely for us to work on you past the scheduled appointment time.
3. We don't care about the stubble on your legs. Unless a leg is shaved within a few hours of your massage, it has stubble on it. We don't mind, and we are not going to flip out about leg hair. You don't hear men apologizing for the stubble on their faces? And that stubble is actually rough (although that doesn't bother us either). As long as you are reasonably clean, we're all good.
4. Your perfume may smell beautiful, but since we work in close proximity to you for about an hour, it can get a little overwhelming. We prefer you wait until you leave our office to put it on. Some of our other clients have allergies to perfume, and it's hard to air out smells sometimes.
5. You have no obligation to talk to us during a massage. If talking helps you relax, by all means go ahead. Otherwise, go to your happy place.
6. To us, your butt is not cute, big, small, or sexy. It's a big muscle, and we like muscles. If you have problems in your lower back, chances are that your gluteal muscles are involved with that as well. We can work your glutes with a sheet covering if that makes you more comfortable, but it seems kind of silly not to work on some of the biggest muscles in the body.
7. Even if you are comfortable with nudity, we don't want to see it. We are trained on how to properly drape clients to protect your modesty and ours. Just because we are comfortable with the sides of your buttocks, doesn't mean we want to see anything else.
8. We have had extensive training in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology (the study of muscles and movement), pathology, and ethics. If we forget that you may not know all the same terminology we have learned, please ask us what we mean. We know where your medial malleolus is (that's your ankle bone on the inside of your leg), but if you haven't heard of that before, please ask.
9. If you have had a change in your medical condition since you were here last time, it is important that you tell us. If you tell us halfway through a deep-tissue massage that you are taking blood thinners, we are going to be thinking "uh-oh" in our heads.
10. Tell us if you want more or less pressure. We are happy to oblige, and won't take offense. In fact, we love it if you tell us what you like and don't like as we go along--it helps us to individualize your massage to what you want and need.
11. Yes, we put clean sheets on the table for every client.
12. During the massage session, our job is to do bodywork. Your job is to relax. We love the tranquil look people get after their massage, so leave your worries somewhere else and leave your muscles to us.
13. If you are unhappy, please tell us why. Sometimes a client doesn't return and we have no idea if we did something wrong or if you are just busy.
14. If you are happy with what we do, tell your friends. We love referrals.
15. Finally, enjoy your massage! We love our work and hope you do, too.
Kelli Boylen is a licensed massage therapist in Wisconsin and Iowa. She is a freelance writer and author of the blog Boylen Over. This piece originally appeared on www.goodblogs.com.
Calming Fibromyalgia Pain
by Erik Dalton Ph.D.
As with many chronic diseases, the symptoms of fibromyalgia often wax and wane. Therefore, pain management therapy should be considered as an ongoing process, rather than management of a single episode. Flare-ups often exacerbate the client’s underlying stress. Furthermore, stress can also precipitate flare-ups of fibromyalgia. In my opinion, the first line of defense for relieving basic fibromyalgic symptoms should be body therapy and exercise. Although pain from this condition primarily manifests in specifically designated areas the trained manual therapist must refrain from chasing the pain and instead, seek to restore whole body function by testing for ART: asymmetry; restriction of motion; and tissue texture abnormality.
Tissue texture abnormalities must be closely evaluated in clients presenting with fibromyalgic symptoms. Boggy, leathery, fibrotic, contractured, and spasmodic tissues are potential pain generators, with each requiring a uniquely different hands-on approach. Post isometric relaxation cervical routines such as those demonstrated in the above video seem to be beneficial in recovering lost range of motion to fibrotic spine related tissues such as joint capsules, ligaments, and paravertebral myofascia. Any deep tissue technique that calms central nervous system hyperactivity and lowers sympathetic tone will greatly benefit those with fibromyalgia.
While it is tempting for the client to relax and not move jointsand muscles that are hurting, moving them is one of the best preventive and curative measures found so far to alleviate the painful symptoms. Traditional massage techniques are helpful in desensitizing hyperexcited cutaneous (skin and fascial) neuroreceptors. However, deep-tissue techniques that incorporate active client movements (enhancers) during the hands-on work add additional therapeutic power by calming pain generating articular (joint) receptors. Intrinsic muscles and joints are inseparable; what affects one always affects the other. Therefore, a more holistic approach to treating fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndromes should include soft-tissue techniques that create extensibility in contractured tissues; tonify weak muscles; and decompress impacted, motion-restricted joints and their supporting ligaments.
Exercise … gooood!
Incrementally, the more exercise clients are able to do, the better they will feel. It doesn’t matter what kind of aerobic exercise — swimming, biking, jogging, walking, dancing — as long as they hit their target heart rate for at least 30 minutes a day. Some clients report feeling better as they gradually increase their exercise programs to 30 minutes twice a day.
Why do clients suffering fibromyalgia improve with vigorous exercise? One notion suggested is that aerobic exercise beefs up the body’s supply of endorphins, a natural pain dampening and sleep-deepening substance. Exercise increases levels of serotonin and growth hormones, the exact pain reducing, muscle-repair hormones that people with fibromyalgia may lack. Exercise also increases blood flow to the muscles. It is well documented that people with fibromyalgia do have slightly less blood flow to their muscles, which might also contribute to pain. Exercise and bodywork together are often just the answer for helping reverse this oft-debilitating condition.
As the research rolls in and causality is eventually decided, it is in the client’s best interest to immediately begin routinely scheduled bodywork sessions in conjunction with a specialized exercise regime… regardless of origin. Well structured manual therapy sessions and individualized rehabilitation programs appear to be the treatment of choice for this chronic and sometimes disabling condition that affects an estimated 2 million Americans each year.
Stress and Pain Age the Body and Brain
By Lara Evans Bracciante
Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, June/July 2005.
Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Chronic stress ages the body and can make cells appear up to 17 years older than they really are, according to a recent study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While researchers and healthcare practitioners have long thought as much, this study reveals exactly how stress takes its biological toll on the body.
The researchers compared 39 healthy mothers who were raising chronically ill children to 19 mothers of the same age whose children were healthy. The mothers' ages ranged from 20 to 50. Through blood and urine samples, researchers found that women with the highest stress levels had weaker immune cell function, higher oxidative stress, and a shorter life span of cells, significantly increasing risk of age-related diseases. This was the case even after adjusting for lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, and age.
Researchers note it is the perceived stress that matters. When two people are given the same stressor and one discerns it as manageable while the other is overwhelmed, it is the latter who suffers more on a biological level. Consequently, stress management techniques such as massage, yoga, meditation, breath work, exercise, and counseling are key to health.
10 Tips to Enrich Your Life
Easy Options to Enhance Well-Being
By Jacqueline Sidman
Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, February/March 2005.
Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
We all feel stress from time to time, and many of our lifestyle habits don't support us in our journey along a healthier path. Here are 10 lifestyle changes that will help you become more relaxed and increase your overall feeling of well-being.
1. Have a power breakfast. Eat oatmeal or other hot cereals or wheat toast with apple butter or low-sugar jam. Replace your coffee with herbal tea. Some people skip breakfast, saying they are not hungry or they don't have time. Eat anyway. Bodies are like engines -- they need fuel. This "new" breakfast will keep you alert and relaxed all morning.
2. Avoid fruit lunches. Fruit quickly raises and then drops your blood sugar. Eat some protein and vegetables instead, like last night's leftover grilled chicken and mixed vegetables, or try a salad with tuna.
3. Take three deep breaths before you eat to increase your body's supply of oxygen, relax, and help you digest your food. You'll eat slower and give your body a chance to know it is full. This will benefit your waistline and your stress level.
4. Cut back on coffee, tea, and cola drinks. The caffeine in these beverages makes you jittery and causes dehydration by taking more liquid from your system than they put in. Try herbal teas instead, and drink plenty of water to cleanse and hydrate your system.
5. Watch for the mid-afternoon "slump" -- a result of low blood sugar from eating a lunch too high in sugar. To feel really refreshed, pass up the candy bar and cola and balance fruit with healthy protein and vegetables and a cup of herbal tea.
6. Prioritize your tasks. The One-Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard suggests you separate your tasks into three categories. Things on the "A" list are "must-do." Things left for the "B" list are important, but can wait, and items left for the "C" list can probably be eliminated altogether. Applaud yourself when you are able to cross items off.
7. Designate the end of work time and the beginning of personal time by performing a ritual, such as locking your desk drawer and turning off your office light. If we don't separate the dimensions of our lives, we become resentful and stressed because we feel like we never leave work.
8. Do something relaxing every day. We all need some "me time." Listen to your favorite music on the commute home from work, engage in your favorite hobby at least a half hour a day, take an evening walk, or just soak in the tub.
9. Exercise daily so it becomes a healthy habit. Even walking for 20 to 30 minutes per day creates a calm mind and a healthy body. Choose a form of exercise you enjoy -- dancing, tennis, aerobics, or bike riding. Remember, exercise gives your mind a vacation.
10. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Getting enough rest is essential. Most people need between six to eight hours of sleep to counteract stress and rejuvenate the mind and body.
Jacqueline Sidman, Ph.D., is a life coach and author of Instant Inner Peace. She has more than 15 years of experience helping others overcome life challenges. For more information, call 949/251-9550 or visit www.sidmansolution.com.