How to Find the Right Massage Therapist
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Often times when people are in the market for a massage therapist, they're not really sure what they should be looking for. It's the same when you're looking for a new doctor, hair stylist, plumber, and etc. There is a bit of a trial and error process, but once you embark on it, with each new potential therapist, you're that much closer to finding the perfect fit. To begin the process, first ask why you are wanting a massage therapist. You need to get very specific here. What are your immediate, after session goals and what are your long term goals?
THE LONG & SHORT OF IT
Short-term goals should be created with reasonable expectations. If you have had shoulder problems for five years and attempted rehabilitation four years ago, but quickly ended it within three months, do not slight any massage therapist for their inability to resolve your five year chronic shoulder pain with a full body massage in under 60 minutes. It. Is. Not. Going. To. Happen.
Something reasonable would be to decrease shoulder tension by one pain level notch. I ask my clients to write down where they are on the 1-10 pain (or stress) level scale, with 10 being the most painful. You most likely have more than just a shoulder issue, so if they are able to decrease any amount of stress levels, that is a very reasonable expectation.
Long-term goals would be to decrease pain significantly or altogether. Please keep in mind that changes outside of and included with massage therapy are necessary to alter responses to pain. Massage therapists are in the business of muscles; therefore, they are limited in their scope and practice. It is important to understand what exactly is within their scope and keep conversations and treatments relevant to your issues and their area of expertise. For example, if a therapist in Texas is telling you to stretch and giving you specific stretches, and they have no other licenses outside of massage therapy, then not only are they exercising outside of their authority, but they are putting their license and your wellness at risk, because that is not their area of expertise. A Texas massage therapist can; however, use assisted stretching techniques to stretch the client. We just cannot prescribe stretches, because that is relevant to body mechanics and postural specialists like physical therapists and personal trainers. The difference here is that massage therapists use stretches to get to the roots of pain and break down muscle adhesions, whereas, body mechanic specialists, use stretches to strengthen muscles to prevent pain. Massage therapists can prevent pain, but we knead muscles to affect the nervous system, which in turn will alter the stress response. The differences are minute, but important to note.
So, why are you wanting a massage should be the first question that needs very specific answers.
When searching massage therapists' websites, be sure to read which modalities they practice. Oftentimes, they will list their services and explain what their modalities are useful for. If not, a quick Google search will usually explain the difference between a Swedish and Deep Tissue or a Sports Massage and a Thai Massage. Many therapists learn a variety of modalities and incorporate many of these into one session. If you are unsure, you can always call and ask.
Although, you might think this is a given, it is not. You cannot look at a person and determine whether they are strong enough. The reason why is because a good massage therapist will use their entire body for the duration of the session. An important trait for a good massage therapist to have is proper body mechanics. This means they are not clumsy and have good posture. Their heads are on straight, they look you in the eye, and they have a good firm handshake. A word of caution: do not judge the strength of a therapist by their handshake! This has happened to me a few times. It is usually a muscular man that has shaken my hand to determine how strong I am and later was thrown off because my handshake was not the proper gauge for how well I used my full body, in order to shift weight and use gravity to my advantage when it comes to manipulating muscle fascia. By all means, shake hands, but do it to set the intention and to see their level of empathy.
Some massages are painful. Many times this is also due to the therapists' misunderstanding of body mechanics. Massages really shouldn't hurt. Other times it is from the lack of communication throughout the session. So be sure to speak up, if you need a pressure adjustment, but also note that your therapist is requesting verbal feedback and giving it too.
And finally- heavy breathing. This is a sign of poor health. Just stay away from people who are not able to control their breathing or lose their breath from a little physical exhaustion.
One of the main traits of a good massage therapist is their sense of empathy. Many people get into bodywork fields to help others. So find out what brought them to massage therapy school. Read what others have to say about them. Ask what they enjoy the most about doing massage therapy.
I think this is one of the most important factors that many do not consider and may be quickly determined by a phone call. In this age of quick responses via text, it is easy to skip making a call in order to quickly book a massage session. Usually, we aren't so fortunate to have this opportunity when we are looking for a doctor or even a hair stylist. But keep in mind, a massage therapist will have their hands on your body, usually for a minimum of one hour. That's 60 minutes of total hands on time. Why wouldn't you want to know what their personality is like? If you get a bad or icky vibe, usually that will be settled in a phone call. THE CHECKLIST