It’s no surprise that a massage can seriously soothe your mind and body, and you already know a solid rubdown has impressive health perks, like better blood circulation, amped immunity, anxiety relief, and even improved sleep quality. But beyond the obvious, there’s a lot to wonder about the magic of massage. Few therapies are quite so up-close-and-personal, so to avoid awkward moments, wasted cash, and (most importantly) potential pain, it’s crucial to be in the know. We asked certified massage therapists for the inside scoop on how to have the best possible massage experience.
It's Fine to Get Butt Naked
We get that it can be a little uncomfortable to strip down to your birthday suit in front of someone you’ve never met, but really, it's totally normal. Remember, massage therapists are trained professionals and your undressing can actually lead to a better appointment. "Undress to the point of where you feel comfortable," says Rod Cain, licensed massage therapist and owner of Rod Cain Massage Therapy in Burlington, Vermont. "A professional will keep you covered with sheets or draping where appropriate, but you should know that undergarments can sometimes get in the way of long strokes or pressure points and inhibit you from experiencing the best massage possible.”
Remember to Breathe
Especially when your massage therapist is working out a particularly bad knot, it can be tempting to tense up a little bit and hold your breath. Don't do this, or you may miss out on one of the major benefits of that rubdown. “It’s crucial that you breathe fully and deeply when difficult areas are being worked on so as to oxygenate your blood supply and aid tense muscles,” says Cain.
Drink a Ton of Water After Your Appointment
It's especially important to hydrate post-massage. “Similar to a workout, your muscle tissues can become dehydrated during a massage," says Jim Memory, licensed massage therapist and owner of Be Well Boston Clinical Massage Therapy. "Therefore, drinking plenty of water post-massage is very helpful in rehydration, building healthy muscle tissue, and removing metabolic wastes that accumulate as your muscles are worked out.”
A Warm Shower Before is a Great Idea
For the best possible rubdown, it’s important to take care of yourself before you step foot in the spa. The easiest and most relaxing way to prep? A long, hot shower. “The relaxation effect of a warm shower on both the mind and the muscles will help you be less tense during the session, which will benefit you as well as the therapist," says Memory. "Also, being and feeling clean can help mitigate body insecurities if they come into play. Plus, the therapist will appreciate your cleanliness for obvious reasons!”
Hit that Boot Camp Session Before Your Massage
You’ve got your massage session scheduled, but you’re set to fit in that favorite fitness class on the same day. What do you do? Definitely pump the weights or take the run before, not after, your massage. "The muscles you work may be a little tired from the exercise itself, but should be nicely warmed up for the massage," says Memory. "In general, working out immediately after a massage is not a good idea as you are likely to stress and strain the muscles that were just relaxed. Also, if you plan your workout for after, you’ll run the risk of being too tired and injuring yourself, or just plain losing motivation after being so relaxed." So what about the gym session on your calendar tomorrow? "If you receive deeper work, we advise clients that it’s best to wait 12 – 24 hours before working out to allow for healing time from the massage itself. With deep work, micro-tearing of the fibers can occur, in the same way as a hard workout, and the muscles need to recover.”
Request Your Preferred Massage Style When You Schedule
There’s nothing worse than leaving the spa feeling, well, meh. While they’re trained to help your body, massage therapists can’t read your mind, so it’s best to tell the receptionist if you have any preference of therapists, pressure, or massage types when you book your appointment. This will help ensure you’re matched with someone who will be able to best work with your needs—for example, relaxation vs. deep tissue injury work, says Memory.
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Be Strategic About Timing
While there's no perfect hour to schedule a massage, you still probably want to consider the timing of your appointment. To do this, think about what makes sense for you and your schedule. "Some people feel invigorated from receiving massage and like to make this the start to their days, while others like to eliminate stress from work and life with massage after a long day, and relax in knowing their ‘off the clock,'" says Memory. "You know your body better than any therapist, so trust your instincts!”
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Bodily Functions, Well, Happen...
Massages are sure to chill you out, but did you know they can also improve your digestion? So, if you’re getting a rub down and hear some grumbling noises and yes, even flatulence, don’t freak. It’s easy to be embarrassed, but there’s absolutely no need to be: “It’s not uncommon for people to pass gas during a massage session, it’s completely normal," says Natalie Johnson, certified massage therapist at Be Well Boston Clinical Massage Therapy. If you're worried, avoid any high-fiber foods before your appointment. Johnson also suggests hitting the bathroom before your session and not drinking too much water right before you hit the table, since there's nothing worse than having to pee while someone is pressing on your bladder.
Avoid Eating Right Before
Generally, a full meal right before you hit the spa is a no-go, as massage certainly stimulates digestion. “I would suggest eating lightly right before a massage, and having a meal a few hours prior," says Memmory. "Of course, don’t starve yourself in the preceding hours, as you may feel dizzy or light headed during the massage as a result, but eating lightly one to two hours beforehand will allow for digestion while not making you feel uncomfortably full."
It may seem out of place to tell your massage therapist to do “more of this” or “less of that,” but that's exactly what they want you to do. In fact, the worst thing you can do is say, "I just want a good massage," says Eric Dahl, licensed massage therapist and owner of Healing Expressions Unlimited. “During the massage, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell your therapist if something he is doing is uncomfortable, the pressure is not right, or if you have a question about what he is doing. Be sure to ask them to spend more time on a certain area if that is what you want—at the end of the session is too late, and this is your massage."
It Shouldn't Hurt
A little pain is necessary to get the job done, right? Not necessarily. “There may be slight pain in stretching or having tight or tensed muscles worked on, but relaxation really is the key," says Dahl. "If too much force is provided, the muscle tightens up more and creates even more pain and possibly bruising muscle and damage.” So, again, be sure to let your therapist know if something hurts. We promise, they won't be offended or think you're a wimp.
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One Rubdown Every Few Years Isn't Going to Do Much
When it comes to massage, “less is more” definitely does not apply. While one massage can certainly help, it packs the greatest benefits over time. “Massage therapy should be considered part of a long-term wellness routine," says Johnson. "It’s best to get a massage as frequently as possible, even if it's once a month or once every six weeks. All your muscle tightness and pains can never be totally worked out, as you’re constantly living, breathing, and moving your body, but getting your muscles loosened as a tune up seriously helps diminish injury. Plus, with the focused massage work, sometimes an hour can cover only lower body, for example, and every time you come in there's another specific area that needs focus."
Skip the Post-Massage Latte
If you book an early-morning massage session, be sure to drink your morning coffee before, not after, your bodywork. “Drinking caffeine after a massage can tense the muscles just worked on, so it's best to avoid if possible and try herbal tea or water instead," says Memory.
If You Feel Any Soreness, Treat It
Your muscles can get a little sore after a massage for the same reason they do after a stellar exercise session: They’re being worked pretty hard! You wouldn’t ignore tight or painful muscles after a long run, so you shouldn’t after an intense rubdown either. “After deep work, icing is recommended to lessen the immediate soreness," says Johnson. "Light stretching is a nice touch too, because the muscles are warmed up, so light yoga or even getting an adjustment at a chiropractor after is perfect harmony.”
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