7 New-to-Massage Questions, Answered

Have you toyed with the idea of booking yourself a massage, but something keeps holding you back? Maybe it’s wondering what to expect, whether bodywork is right for you or what it’s good for, anyway. Here, Jordan Barton, L.M.T., manager of massage services at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., answers these and other questions many massage newbies ask:

Q: I know massage feels nice, but what else is it really good for?

Jordan Barton: It’s a great way alleviate tension and stress and it eases soreness and pain, improves circulation, promotes healing, helps remove toxins and boosts the immune system. Massage is good on so many levels and there’s now such great research showing that that it’s almost a no-brainer to get massaged regularly. (Read The Better-Health Benefits of Massage Therapy to learn more.) Speaking with a massage therapist can help you learn what type of massage may best suit your needs.

Q: Does getting a massage hurt?

JB: No, not typically. If a massage is painful either there’s something wrong, like an injury, or maybe the therapist is applying too much pressure. If you’re getting a relaxation massage, it typically goes from light to medium pressure; a deep-tissue massage goes from the high end of medium to deep. What feels best really depends on what result you’re looking for. If there’s an issue with your body and it’s uncomfortable, then that’s where a conversation should come in. Communicate with your therapist. If you have an injury, make sure she’s aware of it before your session starts so she can avoid the location. If the pressure is too deep, you can tell her to ease up.

Q: How often should I get one?

JB: As often as you like. If you’re dealing with high stress, it’s a great tool for easing that. If you have a lot of physical stress, it’s a great way to keep your body functioning well. One of the best tools that massage therapists use themselves to keep going for the long-term is to get a regular massage; it helps mentally, physically and emotionally. The same is true whether you’re a construction worker, an athlete or an office worker in a cubicle. There’s no hard and fast rule that you should come weekly or monthly. It really just depends on what you feel you want or need.

Q: Do I have to get naked?

JB: No, definitely not. Typically, a therapist will say, ‘please undress to the level of your comfort.’ That may be to your underwear, your bra and underwear or nothing at all. Even if your therapist doesn’t say it, you can always keep your undergarments on if you prefer.

Q: How do I pick a good massage therapist?

JB: A referral is a great way to start. If you know people who get massages, ask, ‘Who do you get massages from? What kind of massages do they do?’ You might get one or two names that way. If the person that’s recommended to you isn’t quite what you’re looking for you can look online, though there are no organizations that offer a quality check on massage therapists. If you’re cost-conscious or just trying to see if you like massage, you can always try a massage school. A student is not the same as someone who’s been a practitioner for 20 years, but getting a treatment from one is a great way to learn a little bit about massage and save some money. You might find a fantastic treatment that way, too.

More: How to Choose a Qualified Massage Therapist

Q: Do I have to stick with the therapist they give me?

JB: A preference for a therapist of a particular gender is the most common reason first-timers ask for a switch, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Of course, who may be able to take on your service instead depends on a number of factors including how large the staff is, the treatments each person is qualified to do and scheduling availability. Working with a massage therapist once does not mean that you must see him or her again if you return. Even if you liked your first therapist, though, you may want to consider experiencing a massage from some of his or her colleagues. This will not only help you find the best fit for you, but give you some familiarity with other practitioners should your favorite be unavailable.

Q: What if I didn’t like my massage?

JB: That really depends. Ideally, you want to speak up during the massage as soon as you notice something is wrong so the therapist has a chance to correct the problem and so you can fully enjoy and relax into your treatment. If something was more minor and if it didn’t distract from the overall quality of the massage, you can always let the therapist know after the session is over, which can help them improve their techniques in future. If you’re in the middle of a treatment and you feel that the person is hurting you and isn’t listening to you, you should feel OK saying, ‘I need to end this treatment.’ You don’t need to explain yourself, but you can let them know, ‘I just don’t feel like you’re listening to me. I’m uncomfortable.’

More: Why Massage Feels So Good

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