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Arthritis Today

Making Your Massage Appointment: What to Know Before You Go

What can you expect when you book a massage? Get the answers to your massage questions here.

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Getting a massage sounds like it ought to be straightforward and simple. But if you’ve never booked a massage before, you may wonder where to start. Here are answers to some questions you may have about massage therapy, as well as helpful tips to make your experience enjoyable and comfortable.

If you have arthritis or a related disease, massage therapy may help you relieve pain and stiffness, promote better sleep, and reduce stress and anxiety. However, people with arthritis experiencing flares should use caution when trying massage. In addition, people with skin rashes, fever or active inflammation may not wish to get a massage until those conditions clear up. To be certain if massage is safe for you, consult with your doctor before booking a massage appointment, or using any massage device or self-massage technique at home.

Choosing a Type of Massage

There are many different types of massage therapy, from classic Swedish massage to Asian techniques that involve manipulation of pressure points. Many day spas and massage therapy clinics offer an array of massage therapies, so it’s best to read up on these, and consult your physician, before booking an appointment to ensure the therapy you select is right for you.

Selecting a Therapist

Each state licenses massage therapists based on their hours of training, but each state has its own requirements. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for a referral, speak to other friends with arthritis who have used a massage therapist, or contact a local licensing board for a list of licensed therapists. The American Massage Therapy Association recommends that you ask any prospective therapist if they are licensed, if they are certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), where they received their training or if they graduated from a program accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, and if they’re trained in any specific massage techniques.

It’s important to select a therapist you’re comfortable with, so here are some things to consider:

  1. Do you prefer a male or a female therapist?
  2. Does the therapist have experience working with people who have arthritis or pain?
  3. Is the therapist receptive to my questions?
  4. Is the therapist communicative and considerate of my comfort?

If you have arthritis, it’s very important to find a therapist who communicates with you about your disease. Tell your therapist you have arthritis, and be as specific as possible, when you book your appointment. Let her know if your arthritis affects your knees, hips, or back, for example, so she can use care when applying massage to those areas, or avoiding them altogether.

Tips to Make Your Massage More Comfortable

Use the following tips to make your massage therapy more comfortable and enjoyable:

  1. Don’t eat just before your massage. Eat earlier in the day if possible, and let your body digest the meal. In many cases, you will be lying on your stomach during a massage, so having a full stomach may make you uncomfortable.
  2. Be on time. If you are rushing to your appointment, you may feel frazzled and find it hard to relax during the massage.
  3. Take off only as much clothing as you prefer. Some people choose to remove all of their clothing during a massage. Others prefer to leave on their underwear or remain fully clothed.  A sheet or large towel will be provided to cover you completely during the session, so your body won’t be exposed. You’ll be able to undress and dress again in total privacy; the therapist should leave the room while you are dressing. If you are having a chair massage or mini-massage in a public place like a nail salon, you’ll remain fully clothed. In addition, shiatsu massage and similar therapies are performed while clothed. Do what makes you feel comfortable. If you decide to stay clothed, wear comfortable, soft fabrics and loose-fitting items.
  4. Talk to your therapist before starting. Your therapist should ask you questions about your general health (such as if you have conditions like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure or other health problems), what type of pressure you prefer, what areas of your body she should concentrate on and which she should avoid, if you like lotion or oils or not, and other key concerns. Be honest with your therapist. Don’t hesitate to let her know that you may have concerns about the massage, or what issues you’d like her to address.
  5. Communicate during the massage as needed. During your massage, speak up if you feel the therapist is not using the proper pressure or if her hands feel cold or too oily from the lotion. Also, let her know if you don’t like the room temperature, or any other things she can adjust for your comfort.
  6. Breathe normally. Breathing helps you relax. Don’t hold your breath if you feel anxious or if the therapist is vigorously massaging an area of the body.
  7. Speak up if you feel pain. If a massage hurts at any time, tell your therapist immediately. While some researchers recommend moderate pressure to relieve arthritis symptoms, massage should not be a painful experience.
  8. Don’t sit up or stand too quickly after your massage. Some people may feel dizzy or lightheaded following a long massage, especially if the room is dark and they have been under warm towels or blankets. Relax when your massage is done, sit up slowly, and take your time standing and dressing.
  9. Drink lots of water after your massage. Most massage therapists suggest drinking a few cups of water after your massage to hydrate you, and usually will offer you water just after your session. Also, massaging muscles and tissues may release toxins that you’ll want to flush out following your therapy. Without it, you may feel queasy or light-headed.

Common Questions (And Answers)

When booking your massage, you may have the following questions in mind, so here are some other thoughts to consider.

How much do I have to spend for a good massage?

Massage prices vary greatly. Some massage therapy centers offer 60-minute massages for as little as $40, but massages at high-end day spas or hotel spas may be two to three times that amount. If your budget is tight, shop around. Look for special coupons on sites like Groupon, LivingSocial or Scoutmob, in your local newspaper, in coupon books or online. Or, ask your doctor or physical therapist for a referral and indicate that you are on a budget. Consult your insurance policy to see if your massage therapy sessions can be reimbursed because you have arthritis.

Where will my valuables be when I am having my massage?

Most spas and massage therapy centers offer private rooms for your massage, so your wallet, purse or other valuables will be in the room with you during your treatment. Some high-end spas also offer lockers where you can store your belongings safely during massage treatments, or while using other spa amenities like whirlpools or saunas.

How long should my massage last?

Massages range in time duration from mini-massages that may last 5-10 minutes, to full massages that last 30, 60 or 90 minutes. It depends on how much time you have to spend and your budget. Typically, the longer the massage, the more expensive it is. Some spas package massages with other services like facials or water therapies, so examine all the options before making a choice.

Should I tip the therapist?

It is customary, though not obligatory, to tip the therapist after the session. Standard tips range from 15-20 percent, although you can do what is comfortable for your budget. Many spas offer a discreet envelope so you can leave a cash tip for the therapist, or you can add it to your bill when using a credit card at checkout.

How do I know if a spa advertised in the newspaper or online is legitimate?

Use caution when you see “massage spas” advertised in the classified section of the newspaper, or online. Some of these establishments may be seedy and not places that offer legitimate massage therapy. Again, ask your doctor or physical therapist for a referral, speak to other friends, or contact the spa on the phone to find out what type of services they offer and if their therapists are accredited (above).

What if I don’t like oil or lotion on my body?

While many massage therapists use light oil or lotion in order to ease the movement of their hands against your skin, they’re not necessary. Let your therapist know that you prefer not to use lotion, or bring your own unscented lotion if you worry about skin reactions like dermatitis.

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