The Do’s and Don’t’s of Receiving a Massage

A licensed massage therapist answers the difficult questions you're too afraid to ask

Massage, like food, is seen as an integral part of training for many endurance athletes. For others it’s an indulgent gift or a chance to unwind. Regardless, it’s a very personal event in which communication plays a larger role than most acknowledge.

Music, pressure, heat, scent, sensitive areas—if you don’t like it or prefer something else, tell your therapist. It’s your session and you’re paying for it! The following are questions and answers you might be afraid to ask your therapist, or your therapist wishes you had the courtesy to ask.

Bodily Functions/Hygiene

Can I itch, fall asleep (and snore), blow my nose, fart, or get up and go to the bathroom during a session?

Of course! We don’t want you lying there uncomfortable and preoccupied with an itch or full bladder instead of your session.

What if I bleed on the table?

It happens, don’t worry. Sometimes a scab rips open or a woman bleeds through her tampon. Sheets are washable or replaceable.

I forgot to shave my legs. Is that OK?

Yes!

I’ve been walking around in sandals all day, so my feet stink and are dirty. Will you still massage my feet?

Most therapists will but only through a sheet. I’ve had some clients bring socks to wear because they are conscientious of their stinky or dirty feet.

If I have a wart or rash on my body, should I tell my therapist?

Yes. We don’t want it and neither does the next client.

I woke up with a cold today. Should I come in?

The massage might help push the illness through your system faster, but you will likely feel worse before you feel better. In the meantime, you may get your therapist sick and pass it on to other clients that day. Generally, the rule of thumb is, if you have a fever, cancel. Even if you are giving less than a 24 hour notice, most therapists would rather lose the income from one session over getting sick for a couple days.

Modesty

Is it OK to start stripping before the therapist leaves the room?

This of course depends on the therapist and the therapist’s relationship with you. But most therapists prefer to give you the privacy to undress and settle on the table before they enter.  It also helps maintain the boundary between therapist and client.

What if I have big breasts that get in the way or make it uncomfortable to lie face down?

Tell your therapist. There are ways he/she can use towels to bolster your shoulders to make it a more enjoyable experience.

Do I have to take my underwear/bra off?

No, this is totally up to you. If you are asking for connective stroke work (i.e. reaching from the back to the legs) or a lot of glute (butt) work, most therapists find that it’s easier to do this work when the client doesn’t wear underwear or a bra. But your comfort is most important, so if taking your underwear off is going to make you tense on the table, leave them on.

You don’t need to get fully undressed during a massage session if you’re not comfortable doing so. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Is it OK to yelp or coo during a massage?

Yes, it’s totally acceptable to vocalize pain or pleasure during a massage. And don’t apologize for it. However, over expressing your pleasure might disturb the therapist.

Before/After Concerns

Can I smoke weed or drink alcohol before a session?

Yes, you might feel the effects of the drugs faster though as the massage will increase blood flow. But don’t indulge to such excess that it will change your behavior during the massage.

Can I exercise after?

Yes. However, I have always felt like exercising after a massage is like jumping in a mud bath after a shower. A light session to help work out the kinks that might have been released during the massage is fine. But a hard session isn’t advised. If you are using massage to rehab an injury, I definitely wouldn’t work out after.

Can I exercise before?

If you’re clean when you run, your body odor will be at a minimum. That’s OK. If you come in for your massage with your legs caked in mud (yes, this has happened) and thick whitish salt remnants, that’s not acceptable because it will impact the therapists ability to do the job effectively. You can always go to the bathroom before your session and wipe down if you’re concerned.

What if I forgot my wallet?

It happens. Just be sure to follow up with payment for the therapist within 48 hours.

I’m pregnant. Can I still get a massage?

Absolutely! It’s recommended you wait until you’ve completed the first trimester. Be sure to tell your therapist you are pregnant so they can treat you accordingly.

Should I tip my massage therapist?

That’s up to you, but if you feel like your therapist provided good service, it is certainly appropriate to thank them with a tip of $5–$10, depending on the length of the massage.

Sensitive Topics

What if I’ve experienced physical trauma (or abuse) to my body that is still triggered by touch? Should I let my therapist know or will they think I’m strange?

It’s OK to tell them not to touch you in a specific area. You don’t have to give any details. Don’t force yourself into experiencing trauma you aren’t ready to unleash. That being said, in certain situations, massage and psychotherapy can work well together to help a client mentally and physically process trauma.

If I’m attracted to my therapist, can I ask him/her out?

Yes, but only if you are willing to potentially lose the therapist. Due to ethical rules around “dual relationships,” the therapist will have to choose to be a romantic interest or keep it professional. It’s discouraged to do both.

Can I joke about “happy endings” even if I have no interest in receiving one?

No. You might be asked to leave before the session is complete. To be candid, even joking about that is disrespectful to your massage therapist.

What if I get aroused on the table during the session?

Arousal is a natural response, so don’t feel guilty. However, understand that it was not your therapist’s intention to arouse you. If you are aware of a motion (i.e. rocking the prone torso) that aroused you, it’s OK to tell your therapist to stop that motion. We have an ethical code of conduct that requires us to make sure boundaries are clear.

If I need work around my groin area (i.e. tight adductors), can I ask my therapist to work in that area?

Yes, of course. If you are a male, the therapist might ask you to hold your genitalia so that it’s out of the way. Most therapists have been taught to use the flat edge of their hand so that the strokes aren’t intrusive. If you feel it’s getting uncomfortable, it’s OK to say, “That’s too close.”

Amanda McCracken
Amanda McCracken is a licensed massage therapist with more than 10 years of working on professional and recreational athletes. She is also an accomplished writer, runner and running guide for the blind. Read more of her work art www.amandajmccracken.com and follow her on Twitter at @writermccracken.