I am the biggest fan of massage therapy! I think EVERYONE should have a massage therapist, and I think everyone should get a massage at least once a month. This article is not about the benefits of massage, but it is about whether you have found a good one! Since moving, I have been dragging my feet to find a new massage therapist because the thought of vetting people sounds exhausting. However, I got a massage this weekend and remembered just how important that appointment is to me, and how I assess whether I have a found a good therapist. I get asked a lot for recommendations of good therapists, and just like doctors, there are different strengths within each therapist. Because there is such an art to the practice of massage, you are really looking for someone that fits your needs. For example, maybe you’re a woman who would feel uncomfortable with a male therapist and therefore you need a certain gender to be able to relax. That doesn’t mean the male is a poor therapist, but it does mean you need to find a female. Having said that, there are a few things that I think are really important when determining if a therapist is right for you:
- Do they have a sense of where muscles are tight or may be sore without you telling them?
I think communication with your therapist is important, so being vocal about your problem areas is a must. However, every single time I get a massage, I realize there are places on my body that feel tight or sore that I had no idea existed. A good therapist will often pause at these places, revisit them, or even ask upon feeling them “Is this spot sore?” When you use your hands for a living, you get really good at feeling tiny changes in the tissue, knowing what normal motion feels like, and seeing patterns in how patients feel when certain tissue changes happen. This is the same thing with your chiropractor. Without a patient even stating what is bugging them, often times the chiropractor can tell them just based on what they are feeling in the assessment. This intuition comes with time and experience, so often times, therapists that have been around a long time will have a better grasp on this. However, I have met a few young therapists that just have that intuition in their hands and you know it when you receive a massage that they have a bright future ahead.
2. Do they have respectful coverage techniques?
Nothing makes people more tense (especially women) than feeling like they are exposed when they don’t want to be. Your therapist should always make you feel covered, comfortable, and they should never go to those covered places unless there is medical necessity that has been discussed prior. For example, there are a lot of muscle insertion points around the butt crease and front of the thigh. They should be explaining what’s going to happen and ask permission to treat those areas before ever going there. Your body parts should be fairly covered at all times except when they are working on them. This keeps you warm, and it increases security and comfort which increases relaxation.
3. Do you leave feeling better?
This one can be a double-edged sword because sometimes you have injuries or painful places that are sore after working on them, and you may not perceive that as feeling better. However, when I say “feeling better,” I mean a few different things. One thing is energy. If you have a therapist that is negative, stressed, or full of poor energy, you receive that through touch. I know that we are getting into quack world when we talk about this, but it’s true. You are energy, you interact with energy, and when someone has contact with you, you inherit some of their energy. This is also why therapists can sometimes be exhausted by the end of the day! If they see people in pain, bad relationships, stressed out, etc, they inherit a little of that from their patients, too! It’s important to enter a massage with the intention of focusing on how your body feels, relaxing your muscles, and being present. That’s your duty as the patient. It’s the therapist’s duty to come in with good energy, focus, and attentiveness. With these two things alone, you will have a totally different experience than if you received the same massage from a stressed, distracted, angry therapist. Trust me. You can pass on the bad juju.
As far as physically feeling better, that can go either way in acute situations, but should be consistent with maintenance. If you are going in for a maintenance massage, you should leave with a feeling of relaxation, better range of motion, and better awareness of your body. If a therapist goes too deep and you can’t relax, you most definitely won’t have a great massage. (There are times and places for deep, just for clarification).
This may be a short list, but beyond those three things, we are talking preference. If you have found someone great in those three categories, then you may want to consider the following that I would consider exceptional:
- great ambiance, lighting, temperature
- calming music selection that you like
- oil quality being top notch
- use of essential oils for certain benefits
- how well they explain what they found while working with you
- how well they can dictate a treatment plan if you are injured
If you find the top 3 with the bottom bullets, hang on and never let go! The first step is just to schedule a massage, try people out, and stick with one that you leave feeling great about. Sometimes it’s simply an energy thing, and that’s impossible to measure on paper.