Massage Professionals

The Massage Source

Search for massage professionals in your area Learn about the benefits of massage Learn how massage can help alleviate various health concerns Learn about various types of massage

From the Institute for Integrative Healthcare

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Massage FAQs

Here you can search our database of frequently asked questions regarding massage. Topics include techniques, contraindications, benefits, and more.

Top Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a massage? What is a therapeutic massage? What is massage therapy?

Massage, also referred to as therapeutic massage or massage therapy, is defined as the manual manipulation of soft body tissue, such as connective tissue, muscle tissue, tendons and ligaments with the intent being an enhancement of health and well-being. States and organizations that have governing authority over massage therapists all have similar definitions in describing massage therapy.

There are many techniques and modalities in massage therapy, which may address specific conditions or symptoms. For the most part they consist of routines using a combination of stroking, kneading, tapping, friction and/or vibrating to improve muscle tone, restore flexibility of joints, enhance blood and lymph circulation, as well as help with relaxation and stress reduction.

Depending on the modality or technique used, the massage may consist of deep or light pressure and may be stimulating or sedating. Certain modalities such as sports massage use techniques with the intention of enhancing athletic performance or alleviating sports related injuries, while others such as geriatric massage, prenatal massage or infant massage have techniques appropriate for a specific population.

Why should I get a massage? What are the benefits?*

  • Massage and other forms of bodywork can help to reduce muscular tension, which results in less pain.
  • Massage improves blood and lymph circulation.
  • Massage helps to lower blood pressure.
  • Massage increases joint flexibility and improves posture.
  • Massage helps to reduce anxiety and stress levels and improves concentration.
  • Massage promotes quicker healing of injured muscles.
  • Massage helps to reduce muscle tightness.
  • Massage lessens depression.
  • Massage reduces spasms and cramps.
  • Massage relieves generalized or chronic pain.
  • In some cases, massage reduces or eliminates the need for medication.
  • Massage enhances immunity.
  • Massage improves quality of sleep.

Are there times when massage is not recommended?

  • If you have had recent surgery.
  • If you have open sores.
  • If you are experiencing acute pain.
  • If you have an active inflammation, such as with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • If you have an active bacterial or viral infection.
  • If you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
  • When you are drunk, taking mind-altering drugs or otherwise impaired.
  • If you have untreated, high blood pressure.
  • If in doubt, check with your primary care physician first.

Where do I go for a massage?*

Your appointment should be made with a licensed or certified massage therapist, educated at a reputable massage school. The massage therapist may have a private office or work with others in a multi-therapist setting such as at a wellness center, spa or salon.

Some massage therapists do make house calls. There may be an additional charge to cover travel time and costs. The massage therapist brings the massage table or floor mat to your home or office and sets up in a comfortable space.

What happens during my first appointment?

The first thing the massage therapist will do is ask you to fill out an intake form. This form will include essentials such as name and contact information. It will also have questions about your general health, medications you are taking, recent surgeries and any ailments or limitations you may have. You may be asked about your activity levels, what type of work you do and your reason for scheduling a massage. Make sure to include all medications as well as herbal and nutritional supplements you are taking, whether prescription or over-the-counter, as their effectiveness can be affected by massage.

It is important to fill out the form as completely as possible. If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with the massage therapist.

Do I need to get undressed for a massage?

For some types of massage, such as traditional Swedish massage, you need to get undressed. Some people choose to leave on certain articles of clothing such as underwear or socks. For other modalities, such as Shiatsu or chair massage, you remain fully clothed. However, before the massage, the therapist should advise you regarding this matter and instruct you to only disrobe to your own level of comfort.

State regulations require the client to be covered with draping (for those modalities requiring you to undress), usually with a sheet or large towel, except for the body part being treated. So even though you are undressed, you are covered during the massage session.

When do I get undressed? Do I get undressed with the massage therapist in the room?

The massage therapist should bring you into the treatment area and then leave the room, closing the door and allowing you to get undressed in private. Once you are undressed you should get onto the massage table and cover yourself with the towel or sheet provided. If this is your first massage, the therapist should provide you with instructions, such as whether you should lie face down or face up on the table.

What should I expect during the session?

It depends on the type of massage you will receive. The massage therapist should discuss this with you after you fill out the intake form. The massage therapist should ask about your expectations and go over the intake information with you to decide the best form of treatment.

  • If you are having a traditional Swedish massage, you will be asked to go into the treatment room, disrobe to your own comfort level, lay on a padded massage table and cover yourself with a sheet or towel. Depending on what your needs are, the massage may include the use of broad, flowing strokes on the arms, hands, legs, feet, back and shoulders. State laws forbid the massaging or touching of genitals or breasts.
  • If you are receiving Shiatsu, you may be asked to change into comfortable clothing and lie on a floor mat. The session may consist of gentle, rhythmic pressure along energy line or meridian of the body as well as gentle stretches.
  • If you are receiving Thai massage, also called Thai yoga massage, you will most likely be lying on a padded mat, though some Thai practitioners may use a low massage table. The massage therapist will use his or her body, including fingers, fists, elbows, forearms, knees, legs and feet for a combination of acupressure and manipulation of yoga stretches and poses.
  • Each form of bodywork may have its own instruction, which should be explained in full by your massage therapist.
  • A massage therapist should ask for feedback with regard to your comfort level during the massage.
  • A massage should never hurt or produce any bruising.
  • A standard full body Swedish massage will generally include your neck, back, shoulders, arms, hands, legs and feet. It may or may not include your face, and unless specifically requested will not include the abdomen. The massage will not include the breast tissue or any genitalia.
  • A massage therapist using acupressure techniques will often include abdominal massage as a part of the routine or assessment portion of the session.

What should I wear when I get a massage?

It is important to wear comfortable clothing when you go to get a massage.

  • For a Swedish massage you will need to get undressed to the level of your own comfort. This is done with the massage therapist out of the room. He or she will instruct you to cover yourself with the provided sheet or towel for modesty.
  • If you are receiving a massage using acupressure techniques, most likely you will be keeping your clothing on. Wear something loose and comfortable, preferably made from natural fabrics like cotton, and that have some give to allow for assisted stretching.

If you are unsure as to what type of clothing to wear for the specific technique your massage therapist will be using, ask before you go to the appointment

How long is a massage session?

A massage session can be as short as 10 or 15 minutes or as long as 90 minutes to two hours depending on the type of massage.

A medical massage, which is usually focused on one area of the body for rehabilitation purposes, may only be 15 minutes, while someone requesting back massage may need a minimum of 30 minutes. Most full-body massage sessions are 60 – 90 minutes long. Depending on the individual policy of the massage therapist, a one-hour appointment may be anywhere from 45 – 60 minutes of actual massage.

Allow at least 15 minutes before and after your appointment to relax, fill out any necessary forms and for undressing/dressing. Being rushed afterwards may reduce some of the positive results of your massage session.