Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

How do I find a good massage therapist?

Most stock images of massage feature tropical flowers, perfectly white towels, and beautiful young women with flawless makeup.  This in fact has never been my experience and I'm 100% ok with that. I'd love for massage establishments to STOP using gendered stereotypical images like this.

Most stock images of massage feature tropical flowers, perfectly white towels, and beautiful young women with flawless makeup.  This in fact has never been my experience and I'm 100% ok with that. I'd love for massage establishments to STOP using gendered stereotypical images like this.

My friends and colleagues often ask me questions, and one of the most common is "how do I find a good massage therapist in my city/area?"  It's a great question, and not a simple answer.  

First of all, what makes a "good" massage for you, i.e. what conditions must be present for you to feel relaxed and supported?  What type of pressure do you like? (Soft tissue, energetic work, craniosacral, deep tissue, structural integration, etc.)  A "good" massage depends on your body, your issues, your likes and dislikes, and a host of other factors, so there is no one bodyworker that is perfect for everyone!  Just because you loved one particularly practitioner or session does not mean that your friend will, and that's ok.

What's going on in your body that is spurring you to seek a massage?  Are you overly stressed, in pain, working with a chronic pain or muscle issue, recuperating from a surgery, pregnant, dealing with chemotherapy, etc? 

This is a way more accurate image of my massage experiences- charts, props in the room, clothing on, etc.  I've never had a massage where tropical flowers seemed with an appropriate hair accessory.

This is a way more accurate image of my massage experiences- charts, props in the room, clothing on, etc.  I've never had a massage where tropical flowers seemed with an appropriate hair accessory.

What do you want to accomplish in your session- is this a one time session or are you hoping for multiple sessions?  This can help your bodyworker best serve you, but also help you choose a practitioner as well.  

One of the big questions I struggle with as a movement teacher is are you treating the symptom of a movement based problem, or are you treating the problem itself? So let's say that you have knee pain- you can get a massage that focuses on hips, quadriceps, and shins.  This can be totally beneficial, but what caused the knee pain to begin with?  Was it your shoes? Your gait? Do you want a session that will help clarify what the problem is, i.e. should you see someone who is a physical therapist, a bodyworker who does muscle testing or movement assessment, etc.

Next question is to look beyond chain massage facilities-there are some great therapists at chains, but many times, recent program graduates with less experience are working at such places.  When reading someone's biography, look at how many years of experience they have to begin with.  What sort of the training do they have?  Most states have a comprehensive 750-1000 hour massage certification, but beyond that, many people will seek continuing education, other certifications, or specializations. What sort of populations does this person serve or aim to serve? (older clients, those with special issues, etc.)  Do they have anything in their biography that indicates a focus on your specific issues, pains, etc.? If they don't say "focus on performing artists" in their biography, it doesn't mean that they can't be of help, but it's something to also consider.  Some of my favorite massages (and personal training sessions) have been from people who used to play the violin, viola, or cello, and who very much can visualize what my issues are just from playing the instrument.  

With all this begin said, I personally like deep tissue work, as someone who is not petite and with a lot of muscle mass.  This is not good for everyone, however!  I also like bodyworkers who understand human movement more in depth, and who maybe have training in assessment strategies, such as the work of Grey Cook and the SFMA/FMS.  I also have had some really interesting success with NKT and P-DTR practitioners.  If you're working with a chronic issue that is undiagnosed (and you're not being treated for), I'd highly recommend seeing a medical professional, and working with a good physical therapist who does both manual therapy, movement screening, and correctives.  Next up- unraveling the acronyms of movement and manual therapy!

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