Massage Therapists, What Are You DOING?
April 9, 2012 9:43 PM   Subscribe

More often than not, when I get a massage, the practitioner spends what feels like a ridiculous amount of time near the end just firmly cradling my head in their hands (while sitting behind me while I'm face-up). This has happened during most of the Western-style massages I've gotten at fancy spas, cheap utilitarian saunas, and woo-woo yoga studios alike, and it doesn't seem to matter what sort of massage I request (I tend to request deep tissue, though there's great variation in what that actually gets me). What on Earth are they doing? Why do they do it for so long? And how can I ask for a massage that uses that time to knead my ouchy bits rather than cradle my head while I lie there half-asleep, half-annoyed?
posted by rhiannonstone to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's relaxing (it is for me anyway). You can say upfront that you don't like your head cradled or touched. And if you give them body parts to work on, they will focus on them. It's important to speak up--they want to give you an excellent massage, and they want you to tell them how to do so.
posted by katypickle at 9:48 PM on April 9, 2012

It's relaxing for me too, but hey if you hate it you gotta tell them so.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:49 PM on April 9, 2012

I find it relaxing, too--for a minute or two. After that it's less relaxing and more confusing/frustrating, and I'm pulled out of the lovely fuzzy relaxing experience with my brain racing, all, "What are you doing, energy work or something? Get your hands out of my chi! Am I really paying $1/minute for this? My shoulders could use some more work." etc.

I'm also really curious what they point of that particular technique is. Is it simply for relaxation? Supposed to be some sort of alignment thing? Trying to get their fingers into my aura?
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:55 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, for me, touch in general is really, really relaxing, but the last masseuse I went to said it's because the head/face doesn't get touched a whole lot by other people so sometimes it can be extra soothing to have someone cradle it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:11 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a ridge back there where a lot of tiny muscles attach to, when it feels like they are cupping your head, their fingertips are touching the attachment points of those muscles. It's great for neck and shoulder pain, and headaches. Maybe you don't carry as much tension there?
posted by katypickle at 10:22 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would just speak up at the beginning & say, "I tend to tense up when practitioners cradle my head for longer than a few minutes, and I would prefer that time be devoted to my shoulders/neck/etc." Most massage therapists take direction really well & generally appreciate the feedback. I can't say much about the purpose since I'm not a massage therapist, but it tends to be a whole body experience & is just a normal progression of things.
posted by katemcd at 10:26 PM on April 9, 2012

I guess I'm an MT - just finished school. I think it's a little weird if they are holding your head for more than a minute or so unless you're getting energy work or cranial sacral.

And you ask by stating it directly. "Work on my shoulders for the entire session, please."
posted by MillMan at 10:30 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a few things that your practitioner could be doing. S/he may be doing a gentle long-axis traction to help decompress and align your spine and promote joint health. S/he could be doing a GTO release on the muscles that attach on to the back of your head like someone above stated. This is a very gentle but powerful technique that relaxes a lot of your neck muscles that are tight on most people. S/he could be doing some craniosacral work, manipulating your craniosacral fluid or gently manipulating the bones of your skull. S/he could just be using that as a "closing" or "grounding" technique to make you aware that the massage is coming to an end. S/he could be simply applying static pressure to help general relaxation or to release specific muscles (your head does have muscles on it).

I know that it can be frustrating to feel like your therapist isn't focusing on what you want when s/he isn't digging deep into the exact spots that hurt. Of course, you should always talk to your therapist about what you want or what you dislike about your treatment. If something bothers or irritates you, then it's not going to help you relax! It could very well be just a standard component of the massage that most people like. It's always ok just to say that you don't like when the therapist spends a long time cradling your head, or that you specifically want one spot, and that spot only, to be touched. But, it's a good idea to find out why s/he is doing specific things too.

Sometimes light, indirect techniques are more effective for solving particular problems. Sometimes applying deep or direct pressure can cause a specific muscle to overreact or tense up. Sometimes it's necessary to work on an "unaffected" area (scroll down, you'll see it), because the entire body has been thrown out of balance or is compensating for the dysfunction, which can actually exacerbate the problem. And sometimes the cause of the problem isn't actually located at the spot where you feel the pain or tenderness. It can be hard to believe that the "fluffy" stuff is doing anything, but sometimes it's better to "trick" your body into getting better than it is to try and "force" it.

One other thing... it's possible to experience time distortions while on the table. What may feel like an eternity to you may actually be only 60 or 120 seconds objectively. If this is happening, and stressing you out, you're probably best to request that s/he doesn't use that technique at all.
posted by windykites at 11:36 PM on April 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

My shoulders could use some more work.

Just tell them that.
posted by mleigh at 1:11 AM on April 10, 2012

When I went to massage school, we were taught to end all of our sessions this way. Mostly for the reasons listed in answers above (occipital ridge massage, spine relaxation, etc.) But, also because, for many individuals, massage can be an emotional as well as a physical experience. And, the head cradling is a good way to give the client time to process and emotions that have come up during the session.

I agree with all the posters that a specific request will be honored (and appreciated) by any good massage therapist. Ask for what you want.
posted by hworth at 6:03 AM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

« Older *sniff*   |   Wheatgrass for cancer? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.