How To Get The Most Out Of Your Massage

Massage has made huge gains in popularity over the last several years.  Research is growing that shows it is an effective non-surgical, non-pharmaceutical method to manage stress and many common aches and pains as well as be part of treatment strategies for a variety of injuries and illnesses.

Whether you’ve been getting regular massage for years or if you’ve never had one and are trying it for the first time there are some actions you can take to make sure you get the most out of your treatment.  Massage is not a one-size fits-all service.  Each one should be tailored specifically for you each time you go.  Finding the right therapist for your needs and being able to communicate well with them can turn a passive ho-hum massage into a working partnership that can help you get more enjoyment out of your life.

A Few General Guidelines

  • Do some research to find the right therapist for your needs.
  • Inform your therapist of any injuries, illnesses, or medications you’re taking.
  • Communicate with your therapist about your experience before, during, and after your treatment.
  • Relax your body and mind.
  • Follow up with your therapist after the massage to help fine-tune your next treatment.

For more detail on these recommendations read on!

Before You Go

When choosing a therapist make certain they meet the requirements of your state.  Most every state has massage licensure requiring therapists to have a minimum number of hours of education in massage techniques, human anatomy and physiology, pathology, ethics, business, and hands on work as well as having to pass a state or national certification exam.  To remain licensed and/or certified practitioners often have to have a minimum number of certified continuing education courses.  In Kentucky we require 600 hours from an accredited massage therapy school and 24 hours of continuing education every two years.

Determine why you are going and what you want to get out of your massage so you can choose a therapist that is right for you.  Whether you have a particular problem that requires skilled therapeutic work or need deep relaxation and pampering can determine who you will want to see.  You may also take experience and continuing education hours into consideration or want someone who specializes in a specific technique.  Many of us offer a variety of treatments but more experienced therapists may specialize in specific techniques or types of massage.  You can ask what we specialize in when you call or find more information by visiting our websites and checking out reviews.  The therapist finder at the American Massage Therapy Association website is also a helpful tool that can help you find practitioners in your area that do the kind of work you want.  A lot of our business is by word of mouth and you can often find a good therapist by asking friends who they see and what kind of experiences they’ve had.

Try to schedule your massage so that you don’t have a lot of things to do afterwards such as go back to work, exercise, or do a lot of physical activities.  We all have busy lives but the more you can relax after your treatment the longer it will last and the better you will feel.

Inform Your Therapist

On your first visit you are asked to fill out an intake form requesting information about your health, medications you are taking, work, and regular activities.  The more a therapist knows about your health and how you use your body the more they can tailor the massage for you.  Certain injuries, conditions, and medications may determine the techniques that are used or avoided during treatment.  In very rare cases massage may not be appropriate for people with certain illnesses.  You may also learn that massage may be helpful for a condition you would not have known massage could affect.  For the same reasons every time you see your therapist let them know if anything about your health has changed so they can adjust the massage if necessary.

If you’re uncertain about whether you should seek massage contact the therapist and discuss it before you make your appointment.  As a pathology instructor I am knowledgeable about a variety of injuries and conditions and would be happy to help you determine what kind of massage would be helpful to you.

Discuss Your Needs and Expectations

When the therapist asks what you need that day be as specific as you can.  Let them know if you want just relaxation or if you have a specific problem that needs therapeutic work.  If you have pain or an injury the more information you have about how and when it started and what it feels like the better.  There should be a dialogue between you and the therapist so he or she understands your needs and expectations and you understand what they can and cannot do to help you reach your goals.  If you’ve had massage before feel free to talk about what you like and don’t like and what has worked and not worked for you in the past.

Get Comfortable

Let your therapist know if you’re too hot or cold, if the light in the room is too bright or dim, if you like or dislike the music, if there are irritating sounds or odors in the room, if the table and face cradle are comfortable, or if there’s anything else that may prevent you from relaxing.  Many of these things can be changed to suit you so that you can better relax and get the most out of your time on the table.  I even invite my clients to bring their own music if there’s something in particular they would like to get a massage to.

Communicate During the Massage

Skilled therapists can feel tension and changes in your muscles and tissues as they treat.  We can’t know, however, how it feels to you and may ask several times during the massage about depth of pressure or if you like a certain technique.   What may feel amazing and deeply relaxing to one person may be painful, ticklish, or irritating to another so please let us know how our touch feels to you.  Depth, speed, and quality of pressure can all be altered.  It is important to communicate about any unusual feelings like severe discomfort, pain, or any numbness or tingling during the massage.  Although each therapist may have favorite techniques we always have many tools in our belts and may be able to achieve the same result by trying something different that is more enjoyable for you.  Also we will make notes about what you like and dislike so we can better treat you on your next visit.

A few words on pressure:  Massage is typically not a “no pain no gain” activity!  A good therapist doesn’t force muscles to relax but encourage them to soften and lengthen.  With many techniques the best pressure for releasing muscles is typically what we call “good pain”, an intense but very pleasurable feeling.  If pressure is so deep that it really hurts the muscle may respond by tensing up preventing it from relaxing.  Pressure can be deep without being painful and in my practice I try to slowly sink into the tissues getting deep without causing pain.

Your safety and privacy is crucial to your experience and it is important that you tell us if you feel these are not being respected.  If you are uncomfortable with the way the sheets are arranged or if there are any other issues of privacy please tell your therapist, some areas can be worked on over the sheet or avoided if necessary.  Also if other things change during the massage such as temperature or comfort on the table let the therapist know.

Relax Your Body

This is not always as easy as it sounds.  We are so used to having control of our bodies it can be difficult sometimes to just relax and lay still for an hour or more.  Take a deep breath and let yourself sink into the table.  If the therapist moves your arms, legs, or neck for a stretch or some range of motion work let it go and let them move you, no need to help.  Some techniques require client participation but if the therapist doesn’t give you any directions you can just relax.  Relax your body and your mind will follow.

Relax Your Mind

In the massage room the focus of the therapist is solely on you and you will get the most out of your massage if you do the same.  No need to think about work, family, problems, or anything for that matter.  Focus on your body or your breathing, meditate, go to your happy place or just zone out.  Thinking about stressful things causes a physical response in your body increasing blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and tensing muscles.   If you relax better by talking that’s perfectly okay but take care not to get carried away, a conversation about things that stress you out may cause you to tense up as well.  If something in the room or the therapist talking is preventing you from quieting your mind let them know so you can be as relaxed as possible.  Relax your mind and your body will follow.

After The Massage

When you’ve gotten yourself back together the therapist will want to know how you’re feeling and if the massage had the desired outcome.  In some cases changes might be immediate and profound, in other cases you may not get complete instant relief but feel changes over the next few days.

It is important that you be gentle with yourself after a massage.  Drink plenty of water, eat well, and take it easy.  Don’t exercise, engage in stressful activities, or do a lot of physical stuff after a treatment.

Pay attention to how your body feels for the next week or so after a massage.  If you got therapeutic work for a specific problem take note of how it changes.  Did you get a few days of relief?  No relief?  If it came back was it as intense as before?  Has the pain changed in quality or location?  I like to know how my work affects you so I can fine tune the treatment for your next visit.

If you got deep therapeutic work you may feel tired or sore the next day especially if you had not had deep work in a while.  This typically resolves in a day and you will get a great deal of relief after the discomfort passes.  Always feel free to contact your therapist if you have any questions about sensations you have after a treatment.

If you’re getting work for stress or pain management the therapist may outline a treatment plan for you and recommend that you come back at specific intervals for the most effective relief.  Muscles, especially those that have been short and tight for a long time, tend to want to return to that state.  Treating them at short intervals for several weeks allows them to soften and lengthen more effectively and in a sense re-train them to stay that way for longer periods of time.  As you get longer and longer periods of relief you can spread your massages out more.  Waiting until you’re in pain before coming to see a therapist is not as effective as getting regular massage to prevent the pain in the first place!

I hope these recommendations help you reach your massage therapy goals.  It pains me to hear someone say they will never get a massage again because they had a bad experience.  So many things go in to the experience of a massage and sometimes a little communication can go a long way.  If you do happen to see a therapist that doesn’t listen to you, is able to provide the kind of massage you need, or that you simply don’t mesh with please try another.  Although many of us may have similar training our personalities, intention, and quality of touch can make all the difference in the world to our clients.

In my practice I strive to give the best massage I can for each client.  That means listening deeply to you, being knowledgeable and experienced enough to make the best recommendations for your treatment, and being flexible so I can fine tune my skills to meet your needs.  The time and space for your treatment is set aside just for you and I want you to get the most out of it.

If you have questions about massage please feel free to contact me at ablair@aliblairmassagetherapy.com.

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