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  • Writer's pictureLisa "Koz", LMT

Massage Etiquette??

Oh my good gosh, am I like the only one that goes to massage school just to find out there is massage etiquette and I am one of those clients that they teach "how to deal with"?? Like no kidding I am sitting in class and laughed, raised my hand and admitted that I am THAT client. I completely understand why I do it, but yet I'm looking around and none of these therapists seem to see the same thing. What that means is that all the massages I have received I am the creepy client, GREAT. 

So my goal is now to help YOU not be ME. Yup, there is etiquette, and I'm sure I will still miss some things, but I figured if I can help a person out even a little, then I am doing what I set out to do!  On the flip side of this, please know that I get there are reasons that people do certain behaviors (seriously, I do have a reason for what I do!).  I will reiterate this later but BE UP FRONT and explain why you do things so that the therapist is aware and PLEASE don't be offended if they change therapists to one that is better suited for you. Everyone needs boundaries, including the therapist. Granted as a massage therapist I have to say not one of these bugs me nearly as much as it did the people in my class. I will forever be the creepy client I guess.


Tell me I'm the only one that has been like, OMG I'm so not sure what I should be doing...

Here are the broken etiquette models we actually practice in class. SHHHHH, don't tell that I'm spreading "trade secrets". Also remember that even though I'm listing these as things to NOT do, if you find yourself needing or wanting to do them, just have that discussion before your session so it can be planned out by your therapist.

It is important to know that some of these actually cross your therapist's boundaries, which can cause for them to not be comfortable. Your therapist may be unable to give you the therapeutic massage that you are coming to recieve. Be OK with allowing the therapist that right to also set their boundaries, and possibly have someone better suited to do your massage in a way that fully benefits you. Ultimately the goal of any therapist is to ensure that you are getting the massage treatment that best suits, and fully benefits YOU.

#1  FULLY UNDRESSING- When they are asking you to fully undress they really, truly mean FULLY undress. For some of us, I am TOTALLY included in this one, that is awkward. Like I giggle and act like my kiddos at this point. My hubby on the other hand is on the table, covered and completely and comfortably naked and waiting when he goes.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I do this at Dr. visits too, I get it... Many people feel this way. Know that massage therapists are trained to be VERY professional. Like any other medical/treatment oriented professional, licensed massage therapists won't ask you to do something without a reason. There are certain massage techniques that need for there to be no clothing there to get in the way of the full benefit of the massage modality they are doing. 

They are also trained to serve YOU, so if you are unable to relax and get the full benefit of the massage because you are uncomfortable the whole time, like because you had to remove underwear, then speak up and say something.

No explanation other than a simple "removing all my clothing is VERY uncomfortable for me. I would like to keep my ________ on so that I can relax and get the benefits from your massage" is exceptable.  Whatever verbiage you use, just make it known at the beginning so that the massage therapist can mentally prepare as to how to serve you best while respecting YOUR boundaries. 

#2 TALKING DURING A SESSION- For those that know me, I'll just state the obvious that these first three etiquette things have completely been broken by me MANY times. There, full disclosure, I am a HORRIBLE client... and yet I have never not received awesome massages from my therapists. Thank God for the professionalism of the practice, am I right?? Moving on, and great segue into chatting during sessions....

First off, know that some communication is very acceptable during the massage. It will usually be very relaxed and quiet to ensure that you are comfortable, the pressure being used is acceptable, the temperature of the table/room is adequate, the music is appropriate and good, etc.. These are some examples of short conversations to ensure that you are receiving the best care possible. 

So when do we hit the threshold of chatting potentially becoming an issue? (ugh, I cringe at this because this is totally me, I have no clue how many people got done and sat in a nice quiet room to let the ear ringing stop).

Now know there are definitely therapists out there, like me, that are ok with chatter throughout a massage. Chatter a lot of times comes from just being uncomfortable, I mean this is a vulnerable place for people with heavy physical boundaries. Chatting is used to engage and get a comfort level of personal connection with a therapist. This also can and usually does die down a bit in follow up sessions involving the same person as that trust grows. That isn't always the case and some find talking and interacting with people relaxing, so it's not that it takes away from the massage for the person getting it, but usually they don't catch on to the fact that potentially the therapist finds talking difficult to keep with a certain flow and thus compromises their care through that constant chatter.

Hopefully the rest of you that are like me and enjoy chatting can now have the ah-ha moment that I did of "oh yeah, i can totally see where my chatting could impede their flow to the massage, hmmmm...". Obviously those of us that are extroverts and really thrive off other people, contact/connection and VERBAL communication, we may be better to plan a couple minutes before our session to ask questions or get a quick chat in. This way we can better enjoy and allow our therapist to do their best work, without tripping over our need to talk.

One important NO NO to know about... Personal questions really are not appropriate here. This is a professional interaction, and there needs to be boundaries kept between client and therapist. Not to say some won't and over time don't, but let the therapist be the one to initiate that connection and realize this is for their protection. This in no way is something about, or with you. Professionally this is protection for them. Again, oh how I wish I would have known this before so that I could have been more respectful of my massage therapists!

#3 KEEP YOUR EYES CLOSED - ok, so this one hit me like a ton of bricks, like REALLY? I know someone out there is thinking "what freak keeps their eyes open?". Uhm that answer would be ME, not all the time but if you have me face up on the table, my eyes aren't always gonna be shut and that's an issue with a lot of therapists. So much so that there is actually training on how to get the client to relax and feel comfortable enough to shut their eyes. 

Ultimately when we think about what shutting our eyes does, you can see the benefits. The outward stimuli that our eyes take in and the ability to then concentrate on the comfort and relaxation of the massage. When we sleep we close our eye for a reason and we associate that even consciously with closing our eyes. So that really makes sense that it DOES in fact play a part in helping to enhance and benefit the massage process. 

For some of us, again, closing the eyes can be an issue of comfort. Again, if you know you do this, talk with your therapist before your session as to things you both can do to help you fully relax and be able to be comfortable having your eyes closed. Like I said, we are actually trained with some techniques to help you to be able to do this comfortably.

Some therapist absolutely can not deal with someone that keeps their eyes open, so if you know it's going to happen and it's something you have to do, please check with your therapist that this will not effect your massage. If you are a chatter and, like me, have to make eye contact with people, know this so that you can be prepared to make a little more conscious effect to keep those eyes closed or warn the therapist that it's just habit. 

This one I put here because for those of us that aren't aware and completely do not do this to be "creepy" , it's good to know that this could potentially "weird out" some therapists. 

#4 TOUCHING - Yes I get how odd this is being we are talking about getting a massage. Now even though I tend to be a "touchy/huggy" person, boundaries are always a good thing. This is the first one that I actually have not done, BUT I totally get where this could happen in a very innocent way and without meaning to vs. the people that are doing it in a malicious or harmful way. 

First off please realize that this is a HUGE safety issue for massage therapists. This is a very personal service that is being given and some take advantage of that in ways that are harmful, dangerous and inappropriate for the massage therapist to be involved with. Know that a therapist has every right to stop and/or terminate a session for INAPPROPRIATE behavior or touching to maintain a safe working environment for themselves and others. 

On the client side of things it is expected that you won't grab the therapist's hands or any other part of their body. If you are someone, like me, that sometimes gets people's attention by placing a hand on a shoulder or arm, you may want to alert the therapist at the same time as the touch that you are only intending to get their attention. Be appropriate in where you touch a therapist and respect that they are trained to keep a professional distance from personal touch outside the massage, so do not be offended if their reaction seems defensive. 

The flip side of this one is that sometimes the therapist may not realize that in giving the massage that various areas, like your hand for instance,  may be in a place that they lean into that causes for an awkward moment. PLEASE feel free at this point to maintain YOUR boundaries and mention it so the therapist (who probably wasn't aware) can correct that. 

IMPORTANT!  There is NO therapy modality out there in any legit massage business that will touch you in a sexual way or in or on your genitals. If this should happen, you have the right to end the session promptly , get dressed and leave to report the behavior. Inappropriate sexual behavior from a therapist is an ethical issue that is not tolerated by any entity. This does not happen often, when you look at the number of legitimate complaints vs the number of massage therapists, you will see that like elsewhere there are a few people that abuse their profession, but THANKFULLY  it's very unlikely that you will ever run into this issue. 

#5 HYGIENE - YAY!!! Complete awkward and yes, I AM GOING HERE... So stink happens guys, let's face it. Not all massages can happen directly after a nice cleansing shower, am I right? So when I'm talking hygiene, I'm talking body odor that hasn't been dealt with this week and it's now like THURSDAY, or you have been wearing the same socks since the week prior. When was the last time you washed your hair?  Hygiene is an issue and at some point it actually can be potentially a safety issue for the therapist workin on you. 

We expect people to wash their hands after a trip to the restroom, right? So bathing/showering at least within the last 12 hours prior to a massage session isn't asking a lot. I'm gonna get gross for a minute,  so fair warning. Our body is full of bacteria, sometimes that bacteria starts to smell as we gain more of it than we should in areas. When this happens or that odor changes because of the length of time it's been there, we have a potential health issue. Not to mention this runs into a very awkward position for the therapist, who now has to weigh whether or not to actually proceed with the massage in question.  (Please know that there are certain instances where this can not be avoided and usually is known and dealt with by the therapist to best serve the client.). I am talking about the majority of us that can very much take some time in our day to make sure that our massage day is one where we clean ourselves at least a few hours prior, wear clean clothes/socks, and make sure that we are not offensive in our bodily hygiene. 

THERE, I said it.... that one was painful and I'm pretty sure anyone reading this has nothing in their personal lives that pertains to this. Please know this is being said because it's out there folks, real and not an easy conversation to have.

While this doesn't cover all the etiquette points that could be made, this should help some of you that, like me, were clueless to things you would never have thought of!! 

Personally, now as a licensed massage therapist, I really am just glad to see my clients and I am less worried about what you do than making sure you get what you need. Some of these are obviously safety and just plain, duh, but for the most part find the therapist that best fits what YOU are looking for. If the above is an issue for you and your therapist find one that

**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product/blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.

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