When you are shelling out $60 to $150 per hour, you want to get the best massage you can find. But how do you go about doing that?
Chances are, if you are aged 25 or older, you've had at least one professional massage. In fact, according to the 2009 American Massage Therapy Association consumer survey, an average of 22 percent of adult Americans received at least one massage between July 2008 and July 2009, and an average of 34 percent of adult Americans received a massage in the previous five years.
Nearly one-fourth of those massages were performed in a spa, while the remainder occurred in private practice offices, chiropractic offices, in-home, or other settings.
But no matter where you go for your massage, you want to get the most for your dollar, right? There are several ways to do that, and here are my top 10.
1. Define your purpose.
There are many reasons to get a massage, and matching a therapist to your needs is important. Do you have specific issues like a stiff neck, car accident injury, tennis elbow, or chronic back pain? Or is your focus more on relaxing and de-stressing? Are you looking for a girls' getaway experience or are you celebrating in a group? Or do you need quiet time to escape a busy day?
2. Ask your friends.
A referral is worth a thousand phone calls. Surely, someone you know has a therapist that they swear by, or a spa that they just love. Ask around. Most of my clients were referred by co-workers, family, friends, physical therapists, or other service providers. (Your hairdresser knows!)
3. Ask a professional.
If you don't get anywhere with your friends and family, try the pros. The AMTA has a Find-A-Therapist website to give you a directory across the U.S. Asking your doctor may lead to a referral, but you're more likely to get good recommendations from nurses, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists or other health care workers.
4. Do your homework: Research.
If you are going to an unknown spa or clinic, a little Googling goes a long way. Yelp is a popular consumer review site, where you can enter a city and service to read what others have to say. The Better Business Bureau will provide you with reports on business ethics and complaints, if any, but only for BBB accredited businesses, a.k.a. BBB members. At this point, there is no easy online access to health inspection reports for businesses other than restaurants, but if you are considering an unknown spa experience in an unknown place (especially manis, pedis and waxing), you can contact your state's Department of Health for information. Also, each state has its own regulations for massage, and some require more training than others. Be wary of massage in states that allow anyone to hang out a shingle as a working masseuse/masseur. (Currently, those unregulated states are Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming.) At worst, they could hurt you or be offering more than you bargained for. ("Happy endings," anyone?)
5. Interview your potential massage therapists.
Don't be afraid to call ahead and speak to the therapists. Ask them where they went to school and how long they've been in practice. Ask them if they have any experience with your particular needs (for example: knee surgery recovery, whiplash, plantar fasciitis, marathon runners, pregnant women, etc.). Ask them if they have a lot of return clients or mostly new clients (unless at a resort, this can be telling). Ask them what kind of massage they like to do, and what continuing education they've pursued. Every therapist is unique, and even if you talk to three from the same class, you'll find one doing myofascial and medical massage, another doing body wraps and hot stones, and the third practicing Thai massage or Watsu.
6. You get what you pay for, but what are you paying for?
You'd think, walking into a fancy downtown salon, or an exotic hotel spa, that you might be poised to receive an excellent massage. And that could happen. But more than likely your massage therapist will only receive 10 to 30 percent of what you've paid. The bulk of the bill goes to the hotel or boss, and to pay for the fresh exotic flowers, marble floors and expensive furniture. Your massage therapist is probably fresh out of school, or not very invested in the profession. Of course, there are exceptions, but be forewarned. Also, if there is ever any inappropriate behavior, stop the massage (an easy out is "Suddenly, I am not feeling well. I'm sorry, but can we stop now?") and report it to the manager and/or state health officials.
7. Get regular.
If you can budget a regular massage for yourself, say, once a month, you can become more in tune with your own body and become more aware of what you are getting and what you might need. Not only is massage really good for you, but regular outings onto the table can help you find someone you really like. You could try 30-minute sessions at a new clinic, office, or spa each month, until you find one that fits your needs. If you have a session that is less than memorable, painful or just plain bad, don't let it put you off massage. Every therapist is different and there is a wide variety of quality out there. Plus, that practitioner's style just may not be a good fit for you.
8. Do your homework: Self-care.
Ask the therapist for tips on maintaining your healthy muscles and keeping stress at bay. Often, one or two exercises or stretches will be recommended to you. Do them! Try them there, with the therapist, then do them at home for a week and see how you feel.
9. Drink your water.
After a massage, many people can feel under the weather or sore. This is due to toxins, such as lactic acid and lymphatic drainage of colds and viruses, leaving the body. Drinking several glasses of water over the next 24 hours can help stave off those side effects. Also helpful is taking a nice long hot bath after a massage. Add Epsom salt or bath salts for added detoxification.
10. Be nice to your massage person and speak up.
It is absolutely acceptable to request a change in the music, a different lotion or oil scent, or a bathroom break mid-session. You also are encouraged to ask for less, or more, pressure, as you see fit, but don't be overly controlling. If you trust your therapist, let them do their job. Participate in your own massage -- breathe into the pressure and allow that mind-body connection to grow within you. Let the therapist know if there is something you particularly liked or benefited from, or if you'd rather spend time on specific issues. Lastly, a tip of 15 to 20 percent is customary at a spa or salon. If you're receiving a medical massage, tipping is probably not necessary (feel free to ask), and at private practice sessions or in-home calls, tipping is not necessarily expected, but may be appreciated. So if you really appreciated the session, show it with a tip or referrals to your friends and family.
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