Massage Therapist FAQs

Massage Therapist FAQs

Last week I talked about the process of getting a massage – how the session usually goes and what you can expect from your therapist. While writing that post, I realized that you might have some questions that weren’t answered or answered…enough…in that post. So, here are some FAQs to clear anything up. I cover everything from undressing to if I can relax during a massage.

Have a question that I don’t cover? Ask away in the comments!

massage philadelphia
photo: Katrina d’Autremont

Q: What do you prefer to be called? Massage therapist or masseuse?

A. I prefer the term massage therapist. I think in the US there is a slight negative connotation with the term masseuse, which is why I kindly ask people to refer to me as the former. Recently, I learned that in Europe the term masseuse is used for a massage therapist who has gone to school and is regarded as having more skill. Here though, I still prefer massage therapist.

Q: What are your qualifications and do you need to be licensed to be a massage therapist?

A: I am a Licensed Massage Therapist by the state of Pennsylvania. Anyone manipulating soft tissue (muscle, fascia, tendons, and ligaments) in the state of Pennsylvania is required by law to have a license. Other professions that can do soft tissue work include (but not limited to) chiropractors and physical therapists. Check out if your therapist or doctor qualifies here. In order to get licensed I had to graduate from an accredited school, have clinic hours and pass a state licensing test.

Q: What does undress to your comfort level mean and why do you say it like that?

A. Undress to your comfort level means that you can, well, undress as much as you feel comfortable undressing. Whether you want to leave your underwear on or take it off that’s good with us. We practice draping techniques that are customary in the U.S. where your private areas (pubic area, gluteal cleavage <– yes! we, do call it that!, and a woman’s chest) are covered at all times. We phrase it like that because it sounds nice and puts you in charge of how you’re dressed!

Q: Do you take notes on the sessions? And, if so, why do do that?

A: Most therapists, myself included, write S.O.A.A.P. notes. That stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Application, Plan. Most of the time I don’t fill in all of those points exactly; I write down how you’re feeling, what I see and palpate and what techniques I use in the session along with anything you’re feeling (like extreme tenderness or tightness).We do this to remember what happened each session to see what  techniques worked and which ones didn’t. In rare situations there might be a medical or legal reason we need to have notes from each session.

Q: Can you ever relax while you’re getting a massage?

A: It’s really hard! There are a lot of times when I’m trying to remember what techniques the therapist is using so I can save them for my clients! Other times I’m critiquing and wondering if when I do a specific technique if it feels the same. Most of the time that’s ok though, because I get a lot of corrective work done. When I’m trying to just relax I go to a place and don’t tell them that I’m a massage therapist! That way I kind of forget for a moment too and can just enjoy the relaxing experience.

massage philadelphia
photo: Katrina d’Autremont

Q: What is corrective work?

A: Corrective work is massage with the intention of changing something. For example, you might come in with shoulder pain: I would assess your body, look and feel for asymmetries and imbalance and then, determine which techniques I’d use. Some massage techniques are called structural, which means that they try to change the structure of your body – e.g. level your hips or help your shoulder rotate a different way. A corrective massage therapist would work in the realm of those techniques. This differs from therapeutic work which focuses on relaxation – also a needed practice!

Q: Why doesn’t a massage from you feel the same as a massage from someone else?

A: There are many reasons for this including, but not limited to the fact that we are different people, have had different schooling, experiences, strengths and weaknesses. I’d go as far and say that a massage from me last week won’t feel exactly the same as a massage from me next week! Environment and personality are also really strong factors when getting massage.

Q: Why do you usually only work on a few areas during an hour massage?

A: This is very specific to my practice. I generally cover 2-3 areas of the body during an hour session. This is because I’m trying to do detailed work on each area and in doing that there’s just not enough time for me to complete a full body massage. There are definitely times when clients ask for a full body relaxation massage and when that’s requested, that’s what the client gets! Other therapists I know will do a full body massage no matter what and pick one area to focus on at the client’s request.

Q: Are there medical conditions or other situations where people shouldn’t get a massage?

A: Oftentimes medications and medical conditions don’t prevent someone from receiving a treatment. Things that are major medical contraindications (<– meaning we can’t provide a treatment) for massage include extreme vascular issues like blood clots and extreme swelling, known as pitted edema. In other situations I will have a client reschedule when they have had trauma to their body within 48 hours (e.g. a car accident – no matter how slight, a fall, or even an emotional trauma that is severe), if they’ve been drinking at all and if they’re under 18 without a legal guardian present. In order to receive massage, you must be physically healthy as well as able to give consent. If you’ve been drinking or are under 18 you aren’t able to give consent.

Q: What do you do when you are asked to “go deeper” or that “it’s ok if it hurts”?

A: When a client says that I can go deeper I generally take it to mean that the client wants more pressure. As a therapist, I can access deep tissues without extreme pressure. You see, there are many layers of muscle fibers and if I soften the top layers, I can effectively move through them and access the deeper layers without putting a ton of pressure on the body. If I try to fight the body with a lot of pressure, the muscles contract to protect themselves and push me out. (Note: there are some massage techniques that use extreme pressure, but in my wheelhouse that’s not the case.) It’s easy to associate a lot of pressure with increased effectiveness, but from my experience that association isn’t necessarily true.

Q: Am I allowed to talk during a session?

A: Yes, of course! I was taught to follow your lead – if you are looking for conversation then I’ll follow and if you’re looking for a quiet moment I totally understand! There are times, however, when it’s necessary to talk about the session, in that case I’ll gently discuss my findings.


Need to know more? Ask away or come in for a session!

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