It’s not unusual for me to field a number of questions before, during or after a treatment about what the proper etiquette is for a massage. The questions range from simple expectations to legalities and can sometimes cause a bit of apprehension so I thought it might be a good idea to address some of them here.
Many of these points will be self-evident and others may be surprising. You may even recognize something as a practice or comment reminiscent of a session in your past experience. I’m hoping to provide a bit of guidance and the answers to questions you didn’t know you had or have been too embarrassed to ask.
FIRST, THE DO’S
If you don’t like something, you need to let me know. Lets say the room is too bright, warm or cold… the music is too loud, soft or not to your taste or maybe you prefer quiet today… the pressure is too deep, light or the technique I’m doing is just uncomfortable… TALK TO ME! You are in charge of your experience. I’m there to help you with whatever issue has brought you to my door but not at the expense of your comfort, preferences or safety. I can usually adjust what I’m doing to suit you and still be just as effective so speak up. Feel free to check out my post here on just this topic.
A special note on pressure – I see lots of variation from client to client on what pressure they find most comfortable and/or beneficial. Just remember that the ‘NO PAIN, NO GAIN’ principle does not apply to your massage. If you encourage me to press deeper than your muscles are prepared to accept, I can do considerable damage and potentially worsen the condition you’ve come to alleviate. For more information on this, click here.
DO BE HONEST
I ask a lot of questions. I know this to be true. Even with my seemingly endless inquiries there have been numerous occasions when I have learned about a significant event after a session has started or even days/weeks after I’ve begun treating someone, because they did not declare it on their intake form. These have included motor vehicle accidents, head injuries, doctor diagnosed conditions, surgeries and medications to name a few. Yes, even if it was years ago I need to know! And by the same token, you need to keep me up to date on changes to your health status as our relationship progresses.
Occasionally, my clients have simply forgotten to inform me but there have also been times when they just don’t understand why I’m asking and assume it isn’t important to tell me. If I’m asking, there is a reason I need to know. Always. If you’d like to know the reason before you talk to me, just ask. It will usually have to do with either legal requirements or safety concerns. Anything you tell me is held in the strictest confidence and anything I write down is always secure so please don’t be shy. I can help you best only if I have all the information I need.
DO ARRIVE CLEAN
I always appreciate when it when my client tells me they just had a shower before coming in but I know that isn’t always possible. People come directly from work or have had something unexpected happen that day. Some people perspire more than others and can’t stay ahead of it especially during the summer but any effort that you make will be appreciated.
As many of you know by now, I offer hot towels before and after your treatment. These are to bring you gently into the space but also to help you clean up before your session begins and reset when it ends so feel free to use them. Even if they’re not needed, they feel great!
DO STAY COVERED
My clients sometimes begin undressing before I leave the room. Occasionally, a client will suggest I move the sheet in a way that risks exposure of sensitive areas or even moves the sheet themselves during treatment or allows it to fall. It can be unintentional or just come from wanting to be helpful but the result is the same.
Although this suggests that my client has a level of comfort with their own body that is admirable and a comfort with me that is humbling, professional boundaries are there for a reason. The client/therapist relationship can be a tricky balance and these boundaries help us both by establishing and maintaining clear guidelines. Being mindful of them will foster a beneficial association for years to come.
DO STAY HOME IF YOU’RE SICK
This is as much for your comfort and recovery as it is for my protection and that of my other clients. I know it’s incredibly tempting to want to be taken care of when you’re feeling unwell but it rarely works out in a way that provides relief. Not only will you be uncomfortable during your treatment you’ll likely feel worse afterwards as well.
The general rule is if you’re symptomatic, you’re contagious so just stay home and rest up. Although massage seems like a passive activity, the neural stimulation can actually be quite exhausting so stick with a bowl of soup and a nap instead. Read more on how to make the best decision on whether to cancel or not and why here.
NOW, THE DON’TS
IT’S JUST A MATTER OF TIME
Don’t be late (if you can help it) – The time I set aside for you is yours. I hate to shorten a session when I start late but it can’t usually be helped. I need time to accept payment, reset the room and greet my next client so do your best to arrive at least a few minutes early. And if I’m ever running late, which sometimes happens, rest assured I will never shortchange you.
Don’t be too early – I have a buffer between each client and it’s usually a seamless transition. I like to allow time for questions after a session and demonstrate self-care to the person finishing up. Many people don’t mind an audience but for others this can be easier with a measure of privacy. Although my waiting area is great and my couch is comfy, if you happen to be more than 10 minutes early perhaps have a seat by the stairs until my current client is all done.
Don’t linger too long after your treatment. Our exchanges can be informative, meaningful and fun but I do have to move on when we’re done. Sometimes another client is due any minute and other times I need to pick up my kids, or my dinner is on the table so please understand when I have to go.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Our bodies have a lot of daily functions that just happen, regardless of whether we want them to or not and stressing about them won’t change that. Just don’t let your apprehension ruin your massage. It’s not worth it.
*If you need to burp or pass gas, do so. Better out than in.
*If you need to cough or sneeze, go for it. I always have tissues.
*If you need the toilet, don’t hold it in! It’s best to go before your session begins but don’t be uncomfortable. Let me know.
*If you have a gurgling tummy, it’s ok. Your nervous system is likely just calming down which is what’s supposed to happen. Yippee!
*If you’re leaking somewhere (ie. breast milk) ask me for some towels.
*If you forgot to shave ladies, just remember the guys never do!
*Your hair is not in my way. I have elastics if you need one and I can cover your hair if you don’t want massage oil to ruin your do. Just ask.
*If your pedicure isn’t up to scratch, I promise not to look. Really!
*Snoring means I’m doing my job well and I consider it a compliment.
DON’T STRESS ABOUT YOUR CLOTHING
Scenario #1 – You leave on all or most of your clothes. I’ve asked you to undress to your comfort level and that’s what it means for you. Not a problem. I’ll be honest and say that most massage techniques are easier and more beneficial with skin-to-skin contact but I can absolutely work through clothing.
Scenario #2 – You opt to take off all your clothes and wonder if lying naked between the sheets is ok. It absolutely is and if that’s how you’re most comfortable, go for it. Neither extreme bothers me in the least. Just do what feels right for you.
Scenario #3 – You just leave your undies on. Also ok and I’d just like to mention that I’ll never judge you by what you’ve chosen that day. I don’t look so if you happen to have on your oldest pair with holes and frayed elastic, don’t be embarrassed. I won’t even notice.
DON’T FORGET TO DISCONNECT
We sometimes forget to be in the moment. You’ll get the most from your massage if you take the time to disconnect for the duration. That means turning off and being present. If you need to talk, by all means shake off what you have to first and then just breathe and feel. If you must have your cell phone close, go ahead. Otherwise, turn it off and put it away.
And don’t worry about helping me lift your leg or move your arm. Just focus on doing nothing which is really difficult, I know. But if you practice consciously relaxing on my table you’ll get better and better at it and ultimately keep stress from adversely affecting the rest of your life.
DON’T MISTAKE A MASSEUSE FOR A MASSAGE THERAPIST
It’s important for everyone seeking care for a health concern to know what to look for when they do. A Registered Massage Therapist is a regulated health care professional who goes through years of training, has a regulatory body and maintains their skills through ongoing education just like a dentist, nurse or physician. None of this applies to a masseuse!
The terminology is a common mistake especially since there aren’t many parts of the world where massage is regulated. Federal and provincial regulatory bodies exist to keep the public safe and those they regulate have the skills to ensure that. The designation ‘RMT’ and the title ‘Massage Therapist’ are protected terms. Look for them to ensure you’re getting the care you need.
A special note on tipping – Most RMT’s generally discourage tipping because it puts our skills on par with the service industry as opposed to the health care industry. Would you tip your dentist or your doctor? Likely not. If a client really wants to tip me, I won’t say no but it’s really not necessary. I love what I do and I charge what I feel is fair.