You are ready for a massage, but you don’t know how to choose a massage therapist or what type of massage to receive. For choosing the best massage therapist, the first thing you need to know is why you want a massage, because you want to select a massage therapist who offers the results you want. The type of massage is far less important than the skill and intention of the massage therapist.
Here are common reasons for wanting a massage:
- You feel sluggish and want to recharge your body.
- You are tense and stressed and want to relax.
- You feel good, everything is great, and you want it to stay that way (maintenance).
- You have many stresses in your life, and you want to prevent these stresses from negatively affecting your body (prevention).
- You want to improve your performance in sports or other activities.
- You have an injury or chronic pain that prevents you from functioning normally (rehabilitation).
One way to go about choosing a massage therapist is by personal referral. But just because a massage therapist is right for your friend doesn’t mean that therapist is right for you. You can also ask your other healthcare providers or consult the yellow pages, Internet massage therapy sites, and ads in local publications.
Make a list of potential massage therapists and a list of questions you want to be answered before you make an appointment. Then screen massage therapists by phone.
When choosing a massage therapist, tell potential massage therapists what you want from massage and ask if they offer. Ask about the focus of their practice: Relaxation and stress reduction? Health and wellness? Posture and alignment? Pain and injury relief?
Many massage therapists work in several areas—almost anyone can do a stress reduction massage. Still, alignment and pain relief requires more training and more specific focus and intention on the part of the massage therapist.
Depth of Touch
When choosing a massage therapist, also ask about the depth of touch. Some massage therapists do only light touch. Some do very deep (and sometimes painful) massage. Some therapists are adept at adjusting touch to the individual client.
Very Important: a massage therapist should never work deeper than you are comfortable with. Pain is NOT good. Pain is a sign something is wrong. Deep, painful massage is unnecessary to get good results and can even be counterproductive by causing your muscles to tighten even more in reaction to the pain.
That said, there’s also the concept of the “good hurt.” A muscle may be sore and tender, but it feels good when massaged. That’s OK. Only you know the difference between what “hurts good” and “hurts bad” for you. If you tell a massage therapist that something “hurts bad” and the therapist does not change the approach, find someone else.
Here are some other questions you can ask when choosing a massage therapist if you feel the information is useful to you:
- What types of massage do you use?
- How long have you been practicing massage? What kind of training do you have?
- Where are you located, and when are appointments available?
- What are your rates? Do you offer package discounts? What is your cancellation policy?
- How long is usually required to obtain the results I’m looking for?
- Do you focus on one or two areas of my body, or can I expect a more general massage? Note: What you want here depends on your reason for getting a massage.
- What if I am unhappy with the massage?
About Licensing and Certification
Many states have laws that regulate massage. In other places, local laws may regulate massage, or there may be no regulation at all. If you live in an unregulated area, it’s even more important that you ask about training and experience when choosing a massage therapist.
Requirements for licensing vary widely. Check with your state to learn more. Here are some designations you may see, depending on where you live:
- LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist)
- LMP (Licensed Massage Practitioner)
- RMT (Registered Massage Therapist)
- CMT (Certified Massage Therapist or Certified Massage Technician)
Since the early 1990s, U. S. massage therapists have obtained the designation Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCTMB) by having a minimum of 500 hours of training and passing an exam. They must renew the certification every four years.