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Mental Health

Massage FAQs: What To Expect When You Have Your First Spa Experience

Allow yourself to relax.


If you’re feeling tight (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) a massage might be the Rx you need. They help improve circulation, increase joint flexibility, promote faster muscle healing, and improve posture. As a result, you get better sleep, deeper concentration, reduced anxiety, and an overall sense of well-being. If you want to give massage a try but aren’t sure what to expect when you do, Julie Goeltz, a licensed massage therapist at Living Tree Wellness in Haddonfield, New Jersey, is here to answer all your massage FAQs.

What should you look for in a massage therapist?

First, think about why you want a session. If you’re looking for relaxation, you would seek out a different kind of therapist than say, one who specializes in pain management versus one who helps you recover after surgery or helps ease the side effects of cancer treatments. Ask your family doctor, your chiropractor, or a therapist for recommendations. If none of those work out, ask friends and family for recommendations.

Is there anything you should tell your therapist in order to get the best experience?

You should talk to the person about your goals for the session. Do you need this time for relaxation? Do you have shoulder pain you want the therapist to address? Maybe you’re training for a 5K and you want your muscles to recover more quickly. Discuss those objectives and how you can reach them. How often should you come? Is there anything you should be doing between appointments?

Are there any mistakes people make when they go for a massage?

Many people don’t realize how important it is to discuss their history with a massage therapist. If you’ve had bodywork done before, you should share how you responded to it. Some people have a difficult time afterwards, and they experience pain for days. Other people might not have gotten enough benefit because the therapist didn’t apply enough pressure. Everybody’s different.

It’s also crucial to be open about your health history. People don’t realize how important this
is. I once had a client tell me they were in perfect health, and it turned out they’d had their spleen removed. Here I was, not knowing, and I could have applied too much pressure and really hurt them. Certain medical conditions — such as a history of blood clotting or any disc issues, for instance — might make a massage more risky. You also want to inform the practitioner of any medications you take, and that includes supplements. And I strongly suggest that before any type of bodywork, you get the go-ahead from your doctor.

Is a massage supposed to hurt?

If you’re asking me personally, then I’d say no. I don’t think it should hurt during, nor should it hurt at all the next day. I think that care needs to be taken and the body needs to accept the pressure that the therapist is giving.

If the therapist is going too hard, what do you say?

I’d say, “That’s a little too intense for me, but it otherwise feels really great.” I like to try to throw some compliments their way.

Do you get insulted when somebody says that’s a little too intense for me?

Never. I’m there to make the client comfortable and feel good. If you need anything during the session — more pressure, less pressure, a blanket to warm you up or anything — you should tell us.

What if the massage therapist talks and I want to relax?

The therapist should not be the one chatting. If they are, I’d say something like, “You know, I talk to people at work all day long. I talk to my kids, my partner, whatever, and this is my downtime, so I’d prefer to just relax and be quiet, if you don’t mind.” Again, they’re there to make you feel good.

What if you’re not comfortable removing your clothing?

You can keep your clothes on. I ask clients to dress down to their comfort level. I would just like to add that during a massage, your therapist should make sure you’re always properly draped. Only the area being worked on should be exposed.

Have you ever had a woman do something embarassing?

Absolutely. People pass gas all the time. Listen, we’re moving stuff around, we’re wiggling and jiggling you, so the digestive system relaxes. But it’s natural. If it happens you should absolutely not be embarrassed. We’re used to it.

Should you drink before a massage?

I suggest women drink half their body weight in ounces of water every day. Massage pumps fluids out of the muscles and soft tissue and into the circulatory system, which picks up metabolic waste along the path to the kidneys. Drinking water helps to filter these fluids and keeps our soft tissue supple. Dehydrated muscles are like beef jerky. Nobody likes beef jerky.

What about eating?

I would suggest not eating at least an hour before your session to give your body time to digest. As I said previously, your digestive system is going to get loosened up and you probably don’t want it doing so as you’re trying to digest a large order of lo mein.

Which type of massage is right for me?

There are several types of bodywork, each using its own type of strokes, amount of pressure,
and various other techniques. Discuss with a practitioner which is right for you. The three most common include Swedish, deep tissue, and reflexology. Swedish is the most popular type. It involves using soft, long, kneading strokes, as well as light rhythmic tapping with the hands and palms. Deep tissue uses slow, firm strokes, targeting painful, stiff trouble spots. It’s less rhythmic than Swedish and focuses on more pressure to the layers of muscles, tendons, and fascia (the protective layer that surrounds the muscles, bones, and joints). Reflexology puts pressure on specific sections of the hands and feet that correspond with other parts of the body. The practice may help promote relaxation and general health and well-being.

A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine Mindfulness For Women.

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