Getting a good massage can be a blissful experience. Whether you get a deep tissue, shiatsu, reflexology, or Swedish massage, you'll hopefully feel serene and pampered afterward. But massage therapists do much more than simply knead your muscles and decrease your stress. We spoke to a few to learn their secrets of their relaxing trade.
1. DON’T CALL THEM MASSEUSES.
“I think that all massage therapists cringe at the term masseuse,” Stevie Duren, a certified massage therapist at Bliss Bodywork in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, tells mental_floss. Although some people use the terms masseuse and massage therapist interchangeably, Duren says that masseuse has a sexual innuendo and implies a lack of education. Regulations vary by state, but most massage therapists undergo hundreds of hours of training, learn multiple bodywork modalities, and pass an exam to become certified or licensed. And they must complete continuing education credits to stay up to date with the latest research and techniques.
The word masseuse, however, doesn’t bother licensed massage therapist Nicki Dekunchak, who owns Philadelphia’s Hands at Home. “Most people don’t know the proper term is massage therapist,” Dekunchak says.
2. THEY HOPE YOU'LL SHOWER FIRST.
Because massage therapists get up close and personal with your body, the way you smell doesn’t go unnoticed. Although you may be planning to shower after the massage, be considerate and practice good hygiene before your massage as well. But don’t worry if you haven’t shaved your legs—massage therapists aren’t looking at your stubble, and it doesn’t affect their treatment plan.
If you shower before your massage, allow enough time for your hair to dry. According to licensed massage therapist Michelle Doetsch, wet hair can cause moisture to seep through the sheet on the massage table into the padding underneath. If the padding gets wet, Doetsch has to change it before her next client’s appointment and do an extra load of laundry.
3. THE BENEFITS GO BEYOND THE PHYSICAL.
Massage can be both a complementary healthcare practice (accepted by some medical insurance plans) for people with chronic pain and injuries and a relaxing, spiritually nourishing activity. According to licensed Illinois massage therapist Rick Smith, no field is quite as rewarding as massage therapy. “When someone comes to me for help, I'm truly honored. In only a few sessions massage therapy can relieve, to one degree or another, physical stress and discomfort, muscular pain, emotional stress and tension, limited range of motion, and that overall feeling of malaise. And all without drugs or invasive procedures,” he says.
4. YOUR MULTITASKING MIGHT NOT INSULT THEM.
Although getting a massage can be the ideal time to unplug, relax, and forget about emails, some people text, work, or tweet on their phones while they get a massage. In her office, Duren doesn’t allow clients to have their phones turned on (except for extenuating circumstances), but if she’s working elsewhere, she lets the client choose. “I would rather have a client make time to receive bodywork and feel that they can still do what they have to do, rather than using the excuse that they don't have the time to get bodywork,” she says. Dekunchak echoes that sentiment, explaining to mental_floss that she has a handful of clients who need to work during their massage. “My motto is it’s your time. Do what you want with it!”
5. THEY CAN SPOT POTENTIAL SKIN CANCER.
Because they see parts of your body that you might not be able to easily see—think the back of your hips or behind your knees—massage therapists can spot irregular or suspect moles. If you get regular massages with the same massage therapist, it’s even more likely that he or she will notice any changes in your skin and suggest you go to a dermatologist.
6. DON’T MISTAKE THEM FOR SEX WORKERS.
Although you remove your clothes (and underwear, if you wish), lie on a massage table, and receive physical pleasure, don’t mistake your massage therapist for a sex worker. The American Massage Therapy Association’s Code of Ethics states that massage therapists shall “uphold the highest standards of professionalism” and “refrain from engaging in any sexual conduct or sexual activities involving their clients in the course of a massage therapy session.” Therapists are also required to properly drape their clients, only undraping an area while they’re massaging it.
7. IF YOU’RE NOT PUNCTUAL, THEY MIGHT HAVE TO SKIP LUNCH.
Because massage therapists are usually paid for their time, don’t be late to your appointment. You’ll either miss out on the full time of your massage, or you’ll make your massage therapist’s day more stressful. Besides massaging clients, therapists might need to change the linens, sanitize the table, return oils and other tools to their proper places, and respond to emails and phone calls. Showing up late means that your massage therapist might not have enough time to complete all their responsibilities and eat lunch.
8. THEY RELY ON TIPS TO MAKE ENDS MEET.
Most massage therapists don’t make a ton of money ($43,000 was the mean annual wage in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and because the work hours are irregular, some of them also work a second job to pay the bills. Unless they own their own business, they only earn a percentage of the price you pay. So whether they work as an independent contractor in a spa or for an hourly wage in a medical clinic, most massage therapists rely on tips to make ends meet. If you’re satisfied with the quality of your massage, tip your therapist 18 to 20 percent.
9. THEY MIGHT KNOW IF YOU NEED MORE FIBER IN YOUR DIET.
Your body gives clues about its state of health or disease, and massage therapists can read these clues—a hard stomach, tight lower back muscles, or knotted hamstrings—with their hands. “A therapist can often tell if a client is constipated by working the intestinal area. I usually only do this kind of work if specifically requested,” says Duren.
10. SILENCE IS GOLDEN.
If you’re a nervous talker during a massage, don’t worry about filling the silence. Some clients enjoy talking on the table, but others prefer silence to savor the moment and fully relax. Whatever you choose, your massage therapist will probably be fine either way, as long as your time on the table is calming, soothing, and therapeutic.
11. THE BURNOUT RATE IS HIGH.
Three to five years after graduation, the burnout rate for massage therapists has been estimated at between 50 and 88 percent. Because they work on their feet, using their hands, arms, and elbows to massage, therapists can get carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and trigger finger. Even if massage therapists take breaks between massages, repetitive stress injuries can make their jobs painful, contributing to a large number of therapists who leave the field each year.
12. GOOD MASSAGE THERAPISTS ARE IN TUNE WITH YOUR BODY.
Judith Levinrad Norman, who teaches massage therapy at New York City’s Swedish Institute, tells Oprah Magazine that good massage requires really tuning in. Comparing massage to meditation, she explains that she clears her mind, focuses on being present, and connects to her client’s body. No matter what area of the body she works on, Norman tries to encourage her clients to let go and loosen up. “After you've worked on a lot of bodies, you see with your hands. You don't see with your eyes anymore. I don't need to look—my hands know,” she says.
13. THEY GET MASSAGES, TOO.
Because their work is physical, massage therapists definitely get massages, too. Massage therapist Julie Azzopardi admits that she trades massages with her colleagues at the spa where she works and tries to get a massage once a week or once every other week. Duren says she gets massages because she has to. “The work that I do is intense and strenuous and I have to keep myself in good repair to offer the kind of work I do to my clients,” she says. Dekunchak admits that she gets regular massages, even at 9 months pregnant.