I know, you hear massage and think of it as a luxury. Massage therapists?
A pampering that the rich people get, not us.
Sometimes, though, massages are the best possible treatment!
Massage can also be incredible medicine for a variety of conditions, including Functional Neurological Disorder(FND), the condition I have.
Why get a massage?
Most people tense up when under stress, and often muscle pain and tightness is one of the side effects of long-term stress, both physical and mental/emotional.
Massage is one of the best techniques to help undo that pain and tension, and help the body learn to relax again. While heat can help the muscles relax somewhat, those effects don’t usually last for long after the treatment ends, and is a very temporary relief.
With massage, the tightened muscles are separated and unknotted, healing a lot of the initial damage.
Massage is amazing because it does help you have the intimacy of touch.
As humans, we all need and crave the sensation of human contact, of being touched, but one frequent side effect of any long-term debilitating condition is that we lose out on at least some of our social connections and opportunities, which often reduces how often we have physical(touch) contact with others.
Even if you are in a healthy committed relationship, there can be factors that make getting consistent physical touch more problematic.
As an example, Al and I would watch TV or movies snuggled up together on the couch prior to his hip fracture. Because he is dealing with constant pain now, and sitting comfortably has become more challenging for him, we purchased a recliner for him to use.
On the plus side, he can sit comfortably so we *can* both enjoy watching a movie together. Unfortunately, though, I don’t exactly fit on the recliner with him, and he can’t comfortably sit on the couch for long.
We now often find ourselves reaching out and holding hands when we watch things together, but it’s not the same as full body contact.
For people who are single or in long distance relationships, there might not be regular periods of comfortable physical contact with others. Massage can be a healthy workaround for that problem by providing the intimacy of touch even when you don’t have a relationship that fosters that.
Many people also find themselves confiding in their massage therapist because they feel comfortable and relaxed. That physical comfort and intimacy can often lead you to feel emotionally safer as well. You may find yourself verbalizing some of your tension sources – or thoughts, dreams, and hopes – to your massage therapists. This is pretty normal and most massage professionals recognize and respect this.
Also, many mental illnesses overuse of the fight/flight/flee instinct, which can frequently cause increased muscle tension- so being in a non-judgemental space with signals of calm and comfort may go a long way towards helping you relax if you are managing any anxiety or stress-related condition.
Receiving a massage, especially after establishing a rapport with your massage therapist, could become the best way for you to truly feel relaxed.
Knowing what relaxation feels like, you are more likely to be able to reach that state of mind again using visualization or relaxation techniques than you would be without a clear memory of being in a relaxed state.
Creating safe space for yourself is very important and getting a massage may be a great way of doing so – especially if, like me, you have times where being or feeling alone is emotionally triggering.
It’s hard to feel alone when another person is in the room and focused on you and your well-being.
Preparing for a massage
If you are uncertain if you should get a massage, consult with your doctor before making an appointment. Sometimes they will not make an appointment for you without a doctor’s medical release, especially after you disclose having medical issues.
Don’t let this dissuade you! Just talk to your doctor at your next appointment and have them write the release if appropriate.
You want to see a massage therapist, and get a professional massage. Most of the massage chains(such as Massage Envy or Hand and Stone) can fit the bill, though if you can find an affordable massage therapist in a physical therapy or chiropractic office, you might get more personalized treatment.
Massages vary in price but are mainly in the $60-150 range per hour. Many places have loyalty discounts in some form, so keep an eye out for those.
There are often Groupons or other deals around massages. You may want to use those to shop around until you find a location or a massage therapist you feel like you really click with. Usually, massage therapists are referred to by their first name, and you can book your appointment with a specific one.
Massages are one of those services which, at least in the US, has a strong expectation of tipping, so be sure to budget for that. You may want to plan on a 20% tip(though that may vary based on region). Also, your tip should be based on the value of the massage, rather than the cost(If you paid $50 for a $90 massage, your tip should be close to $18, rather than around $10).
Generally, you schedule your massage a week or two in advance, though some locations may have walk-in services or same-day availability. Especially popular massage therapists will sometimes be booked a month or so in advance. There are a variety of types of massages offered, and it can seem overwhelming. You do not need to be an expert in types of massage, and most providers will list and explain the massage types they have available, and their costs.
Most will have relaxation massages and deep tissue massages, which are good places to start. Most likely deep tissue or other therapeutic massages will help you more if you have chronic pain issues, but if the idea of getting a massage feels stressful, or you primarily are focused on using the massage for relaxation purposes, the other may be a better match for you.
Calling for your appointment – things to consider
When you call to make the appointment, you can request the type of massage you would prefer. Also, if you have a more severe or unusual condition or needs, you likely want to mention them when you make the appointment to make certain they can accommodate you.
Sometimes they have forms for you to fill out ahead of time. Even if they don’t, let them know about surgeries, arthritis, injuries, or sensitivity issues. If you have allergies or sensitivities to scents, you may want to confirm that they note your sensitivities and are able to plan around them.
With physical or psychological concerns, they may also be able to guide you to a massage therapist on staff who is a good match to your needs, so you do want to be open when you make the appointment.
Even a mild allergic reaction or flared sensitivity might ruin a lot of the benefit that a massage should give, so it is important that your needs are recognized and respected.
If you get an unhelpful response from the first place you call, try again at a different chain or location, or reach out to local physical therapy centers and see if they have massage therapists on staff. Keep looking until you find a place that listens to you! You want to do everything possible to make it a good experience.
I have talked to most of the places I have gone to for my massages about my FND ahead of time, because my movements can be abrupt and startling, and I’ve had people misinterpret my being symptomatic as me having a seizure.
You also will want to make sure you a physically clean(take a bath or shower) before your massage.
What a massage session involves
The day of your massage, you go into the location and check in a few minutes before your scheduled massage time. Depending on your location, they may start counting your time the moment the massage time is scheduled to begin, or you may need to wait a minute or two before going back. In a smaller facility, it’s possible for them to run a few minutes late, but generally, things run on time or very close. There are few things that mess up a massage more for me than stressing that I might not make it to the massage on time, so I am often ten or more minutes early to be safe.
There is usually a waiting room of some sort, and your massage therapist will come in and call you by name. It’s possible, but unlikely, that they may have an assigned room that you are directed to by a receptionist instead. The massage space (sometimes it’s just spaces separated by curtains, but it’s often a small room) is usually dimly lit and may be scented or have salt lamps or similar relaxation tools.
When they bring you into the room, they will usually ask if you have any specific requests or needs(or confirm the details they were given). That’s when you can comfortably explain your condition/situation and the needs around it(lack of sensation, known tight areas, sources of muscular pain, and so on). If you have sensitivities or allergies this is the time to confirm that they aren’t using anything that could cause problems for you.
Massage therapists are trained to not be judgemental over your body and body type, and are very willing, for the most part, to discuss what needs the most focus or work, and help you decide what is the best use of their time and energy.
Sometimes they assume you don’t have any special requests, or have a particular routine that they habitually follow. If they don’t ask, let them know your needs/concerns before they start or very early in the massage.
Try to keep this a relatively short conversation though, as it eats into your actual massage time. You shouldn’t be talking for more than a few minutes.
They will then step out so that you can undress and comfortably position yourself on the massage table – they will usually instruct you whether to lie face down or face up.
Starting face down is more common as long as the table is prepared for that(there’s usually either a hole in the table for your face, or a face rest that is pulled out at the head of the massage table), but sometimes they will start you face up, it is a matter of need and preference.
They often will also have a heating blanket on the massage table to help you relax.
Get undressed and put your clothes in the designated space(often a hook or small table). If you feel very uncomfortable with the idea of being naked, you can wear your underwear, but it may get in the way when they massage your buttocks(glutes), lower back, or hips.
You are covered by a sheet or blanket(depending on room temperature) the entire time, and they predominantly just adjust it around you as they massage – so you are not going to be displaying yourself if you don’t wear underwear.
I enjoy the freedom of being completely naked under the blanket – but I can understand wanting to feel like you have some form of control over how much of yourself you reveal.
I encourage you to try full nudity for your massage – at a later time if not your first. The only time I wear underwear is if I have my period on a massage day.
The massage process is designed to be as relaxing as possible, and that includes recognizing the cultural taboo of nudity.
The value of regularly scheduled massages
Getting a massage regularly(weekly or biweekly) is ideal, as it also gives you another routine in your life.
Also, the knowledge that you can get pain relief regularly can help reduce your day-to-day stress, or give you relief to look forward to. One massage session cannot take care of years of tension buildup(sometimes not even weeks or months), so it may take several massage appointments to get your muscles down to a healthy level of relaxation.
Knowing you will come back can also reduce your anxiety levels a bit, which can help reduce your muscle tension.
Of course if you reach the point where the financial costs are more stressful than the benefits of the massage, it’s not worth it. If you find the massages useful but the financial cause too high, you may be able to rework your budget a bit specifically for the purpose of being able to feel okay getting those regular massages.
Conclusion: Should I see a massage therapist?
I personally am a huge fan of massages and receiving massages. I have found them incredibly helpful in reducing my muscle tension and in helping me retrain my muscles to relax.
Massages can be beneficial to most anybody, especially those of us managing chronic and/or debilitating conditions.
While some specific issues may require seeing a more specialized massage therapists(there are apparently specific strokes most useful in paralyzed areas that not everybody may know), I strongly suspect most people with mental or physical health concerns would benefit from spending an hour getting a massage.
Besides the physical release of tension, this is also a way to emotionally and physically be comforted and soothed through human touch and interaction.
Spending an hour with another person focusing on your physical comfort and well-being can, in and of itself, be highly therapeutic. Not to mention that at the end of the massage you also will have much less anxiety or tension.
I want you to think about getting a massage and seeing a massage therapist.
What could an appointment do for you?
How could it help you take care of yourself?
What would you need to do to be able to make and go to an appointment?
I hope you can find helpful answers to these questions – I am happy to have taken some of the mystery out of getting a professional massage, and happy to answer any additional questions you may have!