Your First Massage: what to expect.

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Here you are, booked for your first massage, having no idea what to expect. Maybe your physician suggested a massage to help with your pain or stress. Maybe your favorite aunt gave you a gift certificate for your birthday. The idea of a massage can be a little nerve-wracking if you don’t know what to expect. The first time ever you get a massage, you need to feel safe and comfortable. Great therapists are good at helping you feel cozy right away and guiding you through the process.

But even before you lie down on the massage table, the most important part of a massage therapy session is the consultation. Your therapist will have a medical form and spend a few minutes discussing your needs. It’s important to tell you massage therapist about any health conditions you have and all medications you take. It’s very rare that massage is unsafe, but having all that information allows your therapist to make any adjustments in her technique necessary, and make your massage as effective as possible.

Say you suffer from stress; stress is one of those health condition that is extremely complex, may present in different forms (insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks) and in more serious cases may require some sickness leave from work. If you have never had massage and you were recommended to have massage treatments to help with your stress levels, what kind of expectations do you have?

Would you like to feel better the minute you walk out of the therapy room and forget about your worries or do you want to take a long term view of your health? Unfortunately when it comes to chronic conditions like stress one massage session will not be enough. You might feel the benefits straight away by feeling calmer and you may have a good night’s sleep after your treatment but the underlying causes of your stress will still be there. It is difficult to quantify the number of session an individual may require as each of us has a different story and different needs. This is why going into the detail of your medical history is essential to understand how massage can help.

Let’s take another example: back pain. So many of us are suffering from aches and pains caused by a sedentary lifestyle or maybe from some heavy lifting. Back pain is such a huge category that can encompass a variety of conditions: sciatica, slipped disc, muscle weakness, etc. A massage therapist can perform a number of massage techniques to address issues with a client’s back safely, however for some specific conditions like sciatica and slipped disc a referral to a chiropractor or physical therapy might be necessary.

Again, setting the expectations on getting rid of back pain is important here. If you have been suffering in silence for a number of days taking painkillers and you decide to book a massage appointment, you need to realise that one session may not wipe all that pain away. Your massage therapist will discuss with you when you first experienced your back pain symptoms and highlight any probable causes. Is your job the main cause? Do you spend hours at your computer without a break?

As a new client to massage, you may want to know how many sessions you will need to “fix” your problem. Ask the question, and pay close attention to the therapist’s response. Be aware that there may not be a certain answer, but you want a therapist who speaks frankly about that. Each massage session will address your present health issues from a different angle and your massage therapist will assess how your body has reacted after each session.

Insomnia is another major problem that affects so many people worldwide. Lifestyle is often to blame, working long hours, juggling family and social commitments or maybe combining studying and working. The brain is overwhelmed and lying down in bed becomes uncomfortable as you think about the next day’s to do list.

What can you expect from your first massage treatment in this case? Your therapist may tell you that you may sleep better that night, but what if you sleep as badly as before? Again, one massage session may not be a miracle cure, but getting regular massage can create a pattern for the body to slow down. If you are lucky, you might fall asleep during your first massage session and recoup some of your lost sleep. More importantly, the physiological effect of a soothing massage will have a great impact on your central nervous system and particular the mechanisms controlling your sleep. A massage can send a message to your brain that it is OK to wind down for sleep, while touch therapy can influence the production of stress hormones, lowering the levels of adrenaline and cortisol, sleep’s worst enemies.

Wait, we still haven’t addressed the most challenging scenario: you are new to massage AND you think you don’t like massage or to be touched. In my career as a massage therapist I have encountered a few new clients who really didn’t like the idea of receiving a massage. They may have been pressured into coming by a friend or relative. (FYI-these clients taught me how to be a better therapist). It’s normal to be apprehensive about touch. We live in a touch-deprived world. It’s kind of an odd idea, that you would meet someone, and 10 minutes later, you’ve removed some clothes and they’re touching you.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of how it all happens.

Your therapist will show you the massage room and walk you through the massage process. She’ll leave the room so you may undress, get on the massage table, and get comfortable under the linens. Some therapists use just a sheet, others add a blanket. Most massage techniques are traditionally performed with the client completely undressed; however, it is entirely up to you what you want to wear. If the idea of taking off your underwear sends you into an anxiety attack, then don’t. If the therapist isn’t really clear about what to remove, ask. Really, it’s okay to say, “So, I’m not sure I understand, what should I take off? What should I leave on?” Typically the therapist will give you a few minutes, then knock before entering the room.

It’s great if you can let your body relax and sink into the table. Think about taking deep breaths. If something hurts, speak up. If something feels great and you want more pressure, speak up. Great therapists love feedback from the client. If you’re too warm or too cold, or you just hate the music, speak up. This is your time, and your therapist wants it to be great. Some people chat during their massage, others stay silent. That is entirely up to you, do what makes you feel most comfortable and relaxed!

At the end of the massage, the therapist will signal to you that it’s over and leave the room. Get up from the table slowly, so you don’t get dizzy, and get yourself dressed. As you make payment and schedule your next massage, be sure to let the therapist know what you loved, or didn’t, so she can take note for next time!