What type of massage should I try... if any?
October 1, 2009 1:55 PM   Subscribe

What type of massage should I try... if any?

I'm mustering up the courage to schedule a massage, and, given my quirks described below, I'd appreciate any recommendations as to the kind of massage I should have, if any, and the type of questions or requests I should ask of the therapist.

I'll be running a half-marathon in a little over a week and I may have an opportunity to schedule a massage two days after that race. This would be partially a reward for finishing the race, but primarily an attempt to get over my fear of having a massage. I'm a mediocre but dedicated runner. I'm not experiencing any particular running-related pain or injuries; this just happens to be when I have a window of time to schedule a massage.

I'm scared of getting a massage, even though I suspect it would be helpful and would ultimately feel good. I am very inflexible and I find the little stretching I am able to do to be painful and difficult. (I find it painful to use "The Stick" on my legs, for instance, for any other runners who are familiar with that device.) I've had substantial reconstructive surgeries on both of my shoulders, too, and I tend to flinch when anyone touches my shoulders or upper back. In general, I find it very difficult to relax, either mentally or physically. I'm nearly always "tight" and I often experience mild discomfort and, rarely, some pain in my neck and shoulders as a result.

I'm not particularly concerned about post-massage pain (this question was helpful in that regard); I'm more concerned about discomfort and pain, and the inability to relax, during the massage.

It may be that I'm the sort of neurotic, stiff, physically sensitive person for whom massage just doesn't "work." Since everyone I know who's had a massage has liked it, though, and since it just might do me a world of good, I'm willing to try a massage to see if I'll benefit... with a lot of trepidation!

Is there a particular type of massage that might be appropriate? Swedish massage is what some have recommended, as it is apparently more gentle than deep tissue massage.

I assume I will need to explain my concerns to the therapist, and I'm fine with that. I'm sure that trying to relax ahead of time, arriving early to get acclimated, and doing what I can to maintain a positive mental attitude will be helpful, too. Are there any particular questions you think I should ask, given my specific concerns?
posted by cheapskatebay to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Swedish is the most common form of massage, and involves getting mostly if not completely naked. That's not to say you will exposed -- towels are used to cover your private bits and they know how to allow you to move and roll without exposing yourself. (Of course, if you want to leave your undies on, that's fine too.) I'm a big fan.

I'm also a fan of Thai massage, which has you on the floor, fully clothed (in sweats or other light clothing). It's also full body, but it's more about stretching and pulling and prodding than the traditional kneading that comes with Swedish massage.
posted by crickets at 2:02 PM on October 1, 2009

Thanks, crickets. I should have added that nudity or body image issues are not a concern.
posted by cheapskatebay at 2:10 PM on October 1, 2009

Seconding Swedish, for all the reasons crickets mentions. Also, pretty much everywhere I've ever gone for a massage will ask (when you're in the reception area, even before you go in for the massage itself) if you've ever had a massage before, if you have a preference for light/medium/deep pressure, and if you have any health issues or other concerns. So all this will be communicated to the massage therapist ahead of time.

However, you might want to consider a hot stone massage -- I have extremely tight hamstrings and tend to carry an unusual amount of tension in my shoulders and upper back, and the combination of the heat and smooth pressure of the stones consistently gives me better (and longer lasting) relief than does a regular Swedish massage.
posted by scody at 2:17 PM on October 1, 2009

Specify what you want to the massage therapist, and try and check them out...get a recommendation. The interpretation of these different labels like 'deep tissue' or 'swedish' can vary enormously.
posted by Not Supplied at 2:19 PM on October 1, 2009

My preference is always a deep "make it hurt and turn my vision purple" pressure massage. I am a happy blob of goo afterward.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:21 PM on October 1, 2009

Feel free to speak up during the massage--don't feel bad about it. If something hurts, or feels uncomfortable, be sure to say something. You can ALWAYS ask for less pressure or more pressure. Definitely tell them about the surgeries so they can work those areas appropriately.

Also, this thought helps me when I'm anxious about any kind of intimate personal service, from pedicures to doctor's visits: I am NOT the worst they've ever seen. That can apply to the most neurotic, funkiest feet, weirdest issue, whatever. The professional has had way weirder cases than I could ever hope to be.

(Even if it's not true, it calms me down.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:35 PM on October 1, 2009

If Thai massage is done well, it can be fantastic.

It's probably 50% "putting you into yoga type positions" rather than all "massaging" - so to some extent you'll feel like you would after a yoga session.

There's also a keen attention to acupressure points (mainly on your feet): which is viewed as very important. I've never had a Thai massage outside of Thailand though and even within there are many therapists that aren't any good, either because they don't know better or don't care.

Mention any body problems before you start: the therapist will either avoid that area or concentrate on it, depending what you want.

And if it really hurts then dont be shy to speak up, but if the therapist is good you probably won't actually need to, they'll notice.
posted by selton at 2:46 PM on October 1, 2009

You are saying a handful of different things here. You mention that you are sensitive and scared of pain but also that you want it to do some good. You mention that you want this after a long run (presumably for what it can do to help your muscles) but also that you want to relax.

In my experience (which is substantial but not infinite) there are two main classifications of massage that you can get (and they will go by different names at different places).

Deep tissue/Sports/Thai/Acupressure/Active-Release Massage
-They are all up in your shit, it can cause pain, it makes a difference in the way you feel after that, it physically loosens you up, and you can feel it the next day

Generic/Swedish/Hot-Stone Massage
-They rub, relax, and comfort your body and mind; not an ounce of pain. It feels incredibly relaxing, and it is more of a mental procedure than a physical one. The next day, your muscles will still be in the same condition as they were going in.

A given therapist will be able to do massage work in either category. Figure out what you want and go in with a plan to do one thing or the other (going back and forth in between is liable to lose the benefits of either). Then make sure you are getting exactly what you want during the massage. Tell them it is your first time and you want them to check in with you (it can be weird to tell them things unsolicited if you are new to the situation)

Most importantly, enjoy the damn thing!
posted by milqman at 2:48 PM on October 1, 2009

I am a massage therapist, and I would recommend that you see a therapist who is connected in some way with a physical therapist, a chiropractor, or another more clinical setting than a day-spa type of place. I have absolutely nothing against spa massage, it is very nice indeed for the person who wants to chill out in body and mind for an hour or so, but your concerns are not just first-massage jitters, they're based on physical pain you've suffered over a long period of time.

MTs who work in clinical settings work all the time with people who suffer from autoimmune disorders, traumas, and congenital illnesses that make bodywork a very tricky business. They also work with a lot of athletes. It's all about communication, meeting your needs as you perceive them while also educating you about other things that are going on in your body that might be beneficial to address. If you can find a therapist like that you will be in good hands. And with any luck you will have such a positive experience that next time you can go to a spa for a light Swedish relaxation massage and actually enjoy it!
posted by headnsouth at 3:43 PM on October 1, 2009 [6 favorites]

Also a massage therapist here, I nth the hot stone treatment. But really, if it's your very first massage ever, go for something light and relaxing. Save the deeper, more specific, more clinical-type sessions for later. Right now, just get on the table, realize what it's like to be touched in a non-sexual manner, to have your soft tissue manipulated. And it will do some good. The trick is, you have to meet the therapist halfway there. And nthing all the others' posts that you can absolutely speak up and say, "no, really, that's too deep" OR "wow, that feels great, can you spend a little more time there" OR "please don't work my feet, they're ticklish."

posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:17 PM on October 1, 2009

Since it's your first time... A word about Thai massages from my point of view. I've had quite a few and they have always been great as far as the outcome goes (really getting rid of my constant upper back pain) but the massage itself is so "intrusive," for lack of a better word. They really use their whole bodies during the massage - I mean - the masseuse is ON TOP OF YOU. Crawling on you, stepping on you, using their knees, etc. I have a thing about personal space, so sometimes I get a little grossed out by all the bodily contact. Feeling someone's hair touching me... *shudder*, etc. It starts to seem a bit porny to me after a while. (I'm sure it says more about me than them and yes I go to respectable places.)

But if you tell a Thai masseuse you want deep tissue, by god you're going to get it! I appreciate that, really.

Swedish massages tend to be more expensive where I live, but I prefer them when my uptight, squeamish ass can shell out the cash.
posted by Kloryne at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2009

Yes...try a massage.

You seem well prepared. There aren't many questions to ask that you don't already (probably) have the answers to. The only question I can think of is: "What will you be doing?" to get an understanding of what to expect from that particular MT (work on back first/middle/last, stretches/no stretches, etc). During the massage (as many have said, and I will reiterate), do not be shy about saying something if you feel uncomfortable. Every good MT would much rather have you tell him/her if something is wrong than to have you remain silent and endure it. You will not hurt their feelings (unless you tell them that they are terrible...that might sting a bit). Telling them that something's wrong (e.g., you thought you could tolerate having your shoulders touched, but now find that it bothers you too much) gives the MT the opportunity to try to make it right and make it a better experience for both of you.

A swedish massage is recommended, if only because they tend to be the least expensive (locations that have different prices for different massages invariably charge more for deep tissue and other massages). As was well pointed out in the "Pain Following Massage" thread, the difference between swedish and deep-tissue massage is blurry at best (if it exists at all).

A "sports massage" is a good second choice. This type of swedish massage tends to be more vigorous and energizing than a classic swedish massage. The type of relaxation associated with sports massage tends to be a bit more subtle. This might be a good way to try massage without getting hung up on the "inability to relax" issue.

Hot stone massage is very relaxing but is (in my experience) less therapeutic than swedish massage because the MT is not as able to feel how the muscles are reacting to the pressure (he/she is touching a stone, not your skin).

Some places offer "therapeutic massage" as a specific type of massage...don't be fooled by this. A therapeutic massage is a swedish massage for people who don't want a deep-tissue massage, but who think they want more pressure than a swedish massage. (Wake up people! They're the same!)

If you decide to try thai massage (this time or at some point) be prepared to talk at a little bit of length about your shoulder reconstructions to help the MT determine whether thai massage might be contraindicated for the shoulders.

Regarding spa vs. clinic...I work in both, and would say that convenience, recommendations of friends/acquaintances, and price are all more important considerations than the choice of venue. Many spa MTs are excellent clinicians and many clinical MTs do a wonderful job of helping people relax. See if you like massage first. There's plenty of time for that other stuff later.
posted by Cats' Concert at 11:14 PM on October 1, 2009

I'm grateful for all of the prompt and thoughtful replies. Thanks to all!
posted by cheapskatebay at 5:44 AM on October 2, 2009

Remember all masseuses are not equivalent. I have noticed that there is more variation between masseuses than there is between styles. sports, swedish, esalen etc. Personally, I prefer masseuses that have been working long enough that they integrate several techniques depending on what seems to be needed. The skill to know what is needed is even more important.

Get a recommendation from one of your friends who has some experience with different masseuses.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 6:35 AM on October 2, 2009

I can't help it...this makes me crazy.

Not all massage therapists are masseuses! Masseuse is the french word for a woman who massages. The male equivalent is masseur. Generally speaking, masseuse and masseur are outmoded terms in the U.S..

People who do massage in the U.S. tend to refer to themselves as Massage Therapists.

With that off my chest, I strongly second the idea of getting a recommendation from a friend (or friends) who has (have) been to different MTs (preferably within the same spa or clinic).
posted by Cats' Concert at 11:07 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

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