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Be a Discerning Massage Consumer

January 7, 2020 Author: Rianne Chavez

Black woman with a black bra laying face down on white sheets with colorful insects, we see her exposed back and the white hands of a massage therapist massaging her back.

i am not going to be popular with some massage therapists or massage business owners by talking about these things, honestly, i. don’t. care.

I think massage consumers should be equipped with the knowledge to make educated decisions when choosing their massage provider. 

Here is a list of things I think massage consumers should know.

  • Kansas does not license massage therapists. There are a few cities that require permits for massage professionals but the requirements are bare minimum and there are no requirements for continuing education. Wichita created a permit a few years ago for massage therapists and massage businesses. It’s a great start, but what I’ve noticed is that the low standards create an environment of complacency and that does not uplift our profession’s credibility.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for a massage therapist’s qualifications, certifications, or recent continuing education. Their massage therapist permit and massage business permit should be on display within the Wichita city limits.
  • The Wichita ordinance for massage therapists requires that every piece of linen a massage client touches must be changed and laundered between clients. This includes sheets, towels, face cradle covers, and blankets. I choose to have an impermeable cover between the sheets that my clients lay on and all of the layers of cozy materials.
    • There is also something called “stacking sheets” that some therapists/businesses do to save time. Stacking sheets means layering sets of sheets on top of each other and then just stripping off the top set between clients. I. Just. Can’t.
    • Some places don’t change the blanket between clients because blankets are expensive and the additional cost and time to launder them are perceived as expensive.
  • Massage businesses should have strict protocols for sanitation, including massage therapists washing their hands before and after a session, as well as cleaning anything we touch during your session.**
    • It’s especially important to clean AND disinfect equipment and tools like hot stones and massage cups. That goes for hot stone warmers as well.
    • Oil and cream containers and pumps. Check out what the oil bottle looks like. Is it clean or grubby?
  • Deep tissue massage is a marketing term and does not have a clear definition. There’s no standard definition of what deep tissue is. Is it more pressure and pushing harder? Is it manipulating the deeper muscles? No one knows. It has become a term that places use to charge you more money.
  • Let’s talk about prenatal massage!
    • There is absolutely no reason a woman cannot be massage in the 1st trimester. It’s outdated rubbish. It’s not based on ANY evidence, and it’s harmful. What if a Mexican restaurant refused to serve a pregnant woman chips and salsa because at some point a woman had a miscarriage after eating chips and salsa. The idea is ridiculous and infuriating. Correlation does not = causation. Period.
    • This brings me to pressure points: There is NO EJECTION BUTTON!!! I promise…. And I’m sorry. I know so many women that want help at the end of their pregnancy to go into labor.
    • And finally the pink tax. Women, you should not be paying extra for prenatal massage.
  • You know your body. Your massage therapist should not push you beyond any limits of what is comfortable for you or cause any pain. You should always feel empowered to speak up during a session, to say something is too much, or if it hurts. AND your massage therapist should listen to you.
  • You always have the right to consent. Massage is kinda weird and massage therapists get in your space and sometimes it feels really vulnerable. Massage is the only healthcare practice where you voluntarily meet a stranger, remove your clothing, and let them touch you. Massage therapists should always ask for consent 1. Before the massage and 2. If there needs to be something that could be invasive, explain why it’s needed, what they are going to do, and get explicit permission.
  • You should clearly know what you are getting in the session. What is included and what may cost extra money. I’m a big fan of clarity in prices, so I have one rate for any type of massage and I don’t accept gratuity. Not every establishment operates as I do, but you should be aware of any extra costs associated with your massage. If essential oils are being added, is it an extra fee? Is the hour massage really 60 minutes or is it 50 minutes or some other version of that.
  • Massage therapists do not fix people. First of all, you are not broken and I hate the rhetoric that something is wrong with you that needs to be fixed. Massage is a self-care tool that helps you take care of yourself.
  • Massage does not remove knots. There is not a consensus on what a knot is. Massage stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, causing your brain to relax the tension in your body, but we are not rubbing them away with our fingers, fists, or elbows.
  • Massage is not supposed to hurt. Massage works by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system that moves your body out of the “fight or flight” response. This transition is what leads to a reduction in stress, muscle tension, and relaxation. Your muscles don’t relax because someone is pushing on them, it relaxes because your brain is being triggered to change its perception of what your body is experiencing. Your brain relies on input, massage gives it a new message. If a massage therapist is causing PAIN, we are working against your nervous system.

There you have it, everything I could think of that I think a consumer should know about massage therapy to feel confident when choosing a therapist or practice!

Let me know if you think I missed anything. 


** author's note: this blog was originally written pre-COVID-19. I hope the pandemic has improved protocols for sanitation as recommended by our massage associations and the CDC.