How Do I Prepare for My First Massage?

Massage is scary. There, I said it. I should know: When I went into massage school, I was terrified of the touching, the vulnerability, the possible nudity, the drum circles, the… man, how did I make it? Anyway, I stuck with it for one reason: Massage is awesome.

Let me tell you about my first massage. I was 19, and I was sick and tired of my back betraying me for seemingly no reason (I now know the reasons, and they were legion). I had been to physical therapy (helped some), and now I was giving chiropractic a shot. It was… okay. Lots of back cracking, but I mostly liked the machine that loosened my back up beforehand. That’s what they call foreshadowing, people.

One day, the chiro asked me if I’d like to add on a massage. I said yes, and I was directed to a little room where a nice man greeted me. He asked me a few questions, and then… it hit me. I was about to let a stranger touch me, nay, massage me, while I lay there in my jean shorts. Wait, was I allowed to keep my shorts on? How was I supposed to lay? Was I supposed to let him know when I was ready, or would he knock? I suppose he could have explained things a little better, but it’s easy to assume that people know the drill when you work at a high-volume place like a chiropractor’s. I’m pretty sure I did something wrong (ignored the face cradle, maybe, or perhaps I was curled up under the table), but he quickly got me situated and then…

Well, my back wasn’t miraculously healed, and my chakras remained woefully unbalanced, but my mind was blown. This was far better than any stupid back-loosening machine. This was a certified bodyologist, someone who knew way more about my pain than I did. Not only that, but I realized something: Human touch is communicative. It’s soulful and expressive, it speaks to a primal part of the body/soul apparatus that I, a touch-deprived dweeb, did not know existed. The massage therapist was soon replaced by a machine that shoots water jets.

My Point (And I Do Have One)

I’m glad that I was blindsided by the opportunity for a massage. Why? Because if I had scheduled it a week in advance, those worries that lasted 3 minutes would have stretched out for days, and I might have psyched myself out. Do I need to shower? Is my body weird? Will it be gross for her/him to massage me? Do they make you get all-the-way naked, and will they see my butt? Good lord, what if they touch my butt?!

Scary stuff. Some of these thoughts might have occurred to you, or you may have other worries. If you’ve done your research and picked a promising massage therapist (more on how to go about this later), you shouldn’t worry too much. That said…

A Little Preparation Is Warranted

If you stink, wash up. A washcloth run over your armpits and feet can cover a multitude of sins. If you don’t stink, don’t worry.

If you have a wound or a plantar wart, make sure it is covered in a sanitary way. No big deal.

If you have a skin disorder that is non-communicable (most cases of acne, psoriasis, and eczema are just fine), just make sure to note it on the intake form, and don’t worry about it. We’ve seen it a thousand times before. If you’ve got something communicable, or if you have any sort of open sores, wait until a doctor clears you.

Don’t come in high or drunk.

I think that about covers it.

“That’s It? What About My Hairy Le…”

Let me stop you there. We don’t care about your leg hair. We don’t care about your rough heels, or your “weird toes,” or your need for a manicure. And for heaven’s sake, we don’t care about your “back fat,” or your cellulite, or how you’ve gained sooo much weight and you’re so embarrassed.

Actually, let me take that back: Most of us will care that you’re embarrassed. We hate it for you. We want you to feel comfortable in your corporeal form, as it’s the only one you’ve got. If you’re seeing a bodyworker (that’s what some of us call ourselves) who’s proven themselves caring enough to stay in the profession for more than a year, you’re likely seeing someone who just plain loves human bodies. Tall or short, big or small, broken or whole, we love your body. That came out weird, but it’s true. We’re in this because of the amazing variety of human forms, because the body never ceases to be fascinating. Basically, what I’m saying: When you come to a massage therapist, bring your body.

“So… Are They Going to See My Butt?”

Hopefully you’re worrying less about the physical preparation (“don’t stink”), but maybe you’ve still got some mental preparation to do. Allow me to put your mind at ease:

Any reputable massage therapist will be concerned for your modesty. They will be fine if you leave on your underwear, and you can even tell them that you’d like to keep everything on. That said, should you choose to go starkers, no massage therapist worth their salt will ever see anything interesting. While we may want to work on your butt cheek (lots of important muscles live right around your hip bone), your butt crack will remain blissfully covered and out of sight. In fact, not only do we not want to see your bits, we don’t want you to wonder whether you are exposed. If things are feeling too drafty, inform the massage therapist. If they can’t fix it, find someone more skilled at draping technique.

This… is way fancier than my massage office.

During the Massage

We will likely want you face down on the table, with your face in that crazy cushion that looks like a toilet seat. Some massage therapists might want you to start face up, but they’ll let you know. Consider removing your necklace and any dangly earrings, and putting them somewhere secure. Only undress as much as you’re comfortable with, and lay down under the top sheet. The massage therapist will knock after a few minutes have passed. If you are not ready, please say so in a clear voice.

If the face cradle is uncomfortable, or if the room temperature isn’t right, or the music’s too loud, please say so. These things are easily adjusted.

The massage therapist will likely have you flip over halfway through the massage. As you flip, try to stay centered on the table, and do your best not to move the top sheet too much (we’ll help keep it in place). Pretend you’re flipping over in bed and you’ll do fine. You’ll probably be asked to scoot down toward your feet so that the massage therapist can take the face cradle away.

That, dear reader, is all you need to know for your massage. You don’t need to help move your limbs or your head unless the massage therapist asks. We’re strong, and we’re good at moving limbs around. You don’t need to make small talk, or apologize for anything. Take this opportunity to listen to your body, and the communication that’s occurring silently.

That said, you also don’t need to stay quiet: If you feel like talking, there’s no reason to hold back. In fact, if something doesn’t feel quite right, we need your feedback. I know that the person working on you is supposedly an expert, but their intuition might be leading them astray. If something hurts, or if you could use more pressure, I encourage you to speak up.

After the Massage

After the massage is over, the massage therapist will leave the room so that you can get dressed. Take your time, and sit on the edge of the table for a minute if you feel light-headed. You don’t need to “make the bed” or anything, those linens will be changed after you leave.

Once you step out, the massage therapist will want to know how you’re doing and whether any pain feels better. There are no right answers to these questions.

You might need to pay the therapist directly, or there might be a receptionist who will take care of such things. You’ll be pointed in the right direction. You might be asked to schedule your next appointment, or if you’d like to buy something (a package of massages, a membership, some ridiculous aromatherapy crap). Keep in mind that your brain is mushy and suggestible right now, so you should probably leave big decisions until later.

On tipping: There is no standard tipping etiquette here in the US. Tips tend to be more common in spa settings, and less common in medical settings. I’ve always found $10 per hour of work to be well-appreciated, especially by those toiling away at big-box massage outlets. You can hand this directly to the provider, or leave it with the front desk. If you’ve got any questions regarding tipping or payment, please feel free to ask.

To Sum Up…

Worry less, and enjoy your massage. There is very little that you need to do; let this be one hour out of your month where you realize that the less you do, the less effort you put forth, the fewer expectations and preconceptions that you layer on top of the experience in your mind, the more you will accomplish.

Any other questions or concerns? Fellow MTs: Anything to add?

Photo by willowtreemassagetherapy

5 thoughts on “How Do I Prepare for My First Massage?

  1. This was simultaneously hilarious, kind and frank. You are most excellent! I kinda wish I had never had a massage just so I could read this prior to receiving one haha. Love your page!

  2. Thank you. I’m having my first massage tomorrow and am very apprehensive. A gift from my husband- hate to say it but I’ve been putting it off and he keeps reminding me. Had no more excuses. I’ll remember your advice. It has helped me already.

  3. This was AWESOME! I am having my first massage today and google led me here thankfully. Funny, empathetic and quite encouraging.

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