...When it ticks all the right boxes. Here's a simple checklist to help you rate your massage and massage therapist.
1. A good massage starts before you even set foot through the door.
How easy was it to book an appointment and how confident, professional and helpful were the staff at the end of the telephone or email? We all live busy, complicated lives so a helpful receptionist or the massage professional himself/herself will answer your enquiry promptly. He/she will also answer any questions you may have about availability and contraindications. Sometimes you may want to get a couple of quotes or just "screen" a few therapists before making a decision and asking them about a particular condition you suffer from. Did the therapist explain how a series of massage sessions can help and did he/she refer to previous successful cases that got good results with massage? Did they sound confident, friendly and knowledgeable?
2. Consultation, consultation, consultation.
Never trust a therapist who doesn't even bother asking you if you have any injuries. The best consultation I have ever had before a massage, and so far still unbeaten, was with a therapist who not only asked me about my health and family history but also about my health goals and session goals. In other words, she set herself some targets to meet at session level, plus she was actively managing the client's expectations and setting targets for follow-on treatments to achieve the required wellbeing results. As of today, I am still extremely impressed with my colleague whose passion for continual professional development shines through in everything she does.
3. Applying the right pressure is 90% skill and 10% magic.
Let me explain: a good massage will untangle your knots and possibly feel like a workout, and the therapist will check with you throughout the session if the pressure is within your pain threshold or if it needs to be increased. However, there is still an element of luck/chance/magic if you allow me the expression: in other words, there is something intangible that only very experienced therapists develop over the years and it is what I can only describe as a sixth sense. It is the ability to foretell the right amount of pressure at exactly the right time in the very precise point of the body that requires it the most. With palpation, ie, the accurate scanning of the body using light friction, the therapist can read a client's muscles like a book with their fingertips and can adapt the massage technique accordingly. A really good therapist can also detect weekly changes in the client's muscles (body pump session yesterday? Yes, I can tell) and, in the case of abdominal massage, immediately notice a change in diet (bloating can be a signal of a slight food intolerance or the presence of too much sugar). And beware of the so-called "massage by numbers" where the same massage sequence is used for all clients regardless of their conditions and preferences. The sign of a good massage is that it zones in on the areas you have highlighted as key priorities for the massage therapist to work on.
4. "Plinky plonky music"
AKA spa music may be a salon's idea of providing a relaxing environment but it could be your idea of hell. A therapist should never assume you like dolphin mating sounds, thunderstorms or Armenian harps and should check with you if you have any preferences with regards to background music or if you require complete silence altogether during your massage. I once asked a therapist to switch her skipping CD off and she was upset because, according to her, I was missing out on the therapeutic and healing effects of music. I doubt that a skipping CD is a relaxing sound that would soothe my already stressed out soul!
Aftercare is what will ensure that the benefits of your massage session can be prolonged over time. It is also a key component of injury prevention so if you are suffering from repetitive strain injuries some targeted stretches would slow the build up of tension and inflammation in the joints. Some products or the application of an ice pack may be recommended according to specific conditions. Of course a heavy sales pitch for supplements or other products should be treated with suspicion as it may just be a way for the therapist to earn passive income, which is fine as long as the supplements or other products can benefit the client and fit within the aftercare advice.
A therapist, after a massage, tried to sell me not one supplement but a whole detoxification package worth quite a bit of money and when I read the literature it was fairly obvious that the products in the catalogue were from a multi level marketing scheme. Again, I have nothing against therapists who have the right business skills to acknowledge that multiple income streams are desirable but they have to come clean about their product affiliations.
Having regular massage is not supposed to be a luxury or a service only celebrities can enjoy. Local independent therapists can offer competitive prices compared to spas as they may have lower overheads. Spas provide beautiful facilities and have the resources to provide massage sessions at short notice so there is space for everybody in the marketplace. Whichever option you choose, do your research armed with this checklist and don't deny yourself the positive benefits of massage. And to be 100% relaxed make sure you bring your own iPod.