What makes a great massage?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Most people in touch with complementary therapies have had massage, and most of those will have experienced good massage and unfortunately many have sampled a bad massage. To anyone, the £30-£60 you might spend on one might seem like alot of money, but have a great massage and it is an investment, we're relaxed yet energized, we sleep more deeply and we function more efficiently. Have a bad experience and you feel just as tense/in pain/stressed as before but now you're out of pocket to boot. What is it that separates the good from the bad? Surely its just a case of rubbing oil on someone right? It couldn't be that difficult....could it?

I am one of those people who have had ALOT of massage. I practice what I preach, what can I say? In my wealth of experience of recieving, I too have sampled both ends of the scale, the good the bad and the one where I feel like a basted turkey. I'll start by talking about the qualities we need to consider as massage therapists, to ensure the client is blown away by the treatment and if it's their first sampling of your skills, the only question on their lips will be "Wow! What kind of massage was that!?"

Listen to the client

The consultation whether 2 minutes or 20 minutes should not be considered a mere formality, but is an opportunity for us to really listen to and get a feel for the client sat before us. Where do they want the work concentrated, where have they had injuries, what experience of massage have they enjoyed, do they like the deeper pressure, do they have a senstive areas (most often feet/toes or front of neck)? The latter is equally as important as the others because even if we deliver a great massage but finish out by freaking them out...do you think they will want to come back? This is the first hurdle you will fall down at if you just have one routine or work to any routine for that matter. To actually deliver what the client has just asked for, the treatment will have to be an individual experience.

Observe the client

Observation of the client is an equally important part of the consultation, as this allows you really fine-tune your treatment plan. How do they behave and talk? Are there any evident signs of high stress levels such as high pitch to the voice, talking quickly or seeming a little curt? This might mean that you add in a little 5 minutes extra relaxation work at the end to really round off the session. Physically how do they look? Do they have the shoulders pulled right back in a 'military posture'? If this is the case you immediately know that work will need to be done to open up the area around the thoracic spine, encourage the erectors to move laterally, and lengthening the rhomboids will bring great reward and benefit. Or are they shoulders forwards, collapsed chest with raised traps? In this case we obviously need to spend more time opening up the chest, lengthening traps and encouraging the tissue back and downwards to gain any lasting benefit. Is there a head-forwards posture? Maybe if they're comfortable with it you could try a little gentle lengthening of SCM and scalenes.

Use just a little oil/lotion, listen with your hands

I prefer to use lotion to oil, as rather than feeling greasy it is partially absorbed and gives the skin a silky texture which is really great to work with. If you do use oil, the worst thing you can do is slather it on as you would to baste a turkey and re-apply every ten minutes. All this does is create a barrier between you and the client, making it very difficult to feel tension patterns in the tissue and when you do try and do some slow specific work you will just end up sliding over the tissue and doing very little to release it. I tend to apply just a little lotion to the palm of my hand, and  never directly onto the client and use the first sweeps of my hand to detect the tension patterns in the tissue and use the information to build my strategy. I always work slowly, first sinking to the level of the tissue I want to work with and then either stretching shortened muscle or working cross-fibre and muscles which are 'locked long'.

Stay mindful

A good treatment is all about the connection between you and your client so enetering the treatment with a settled mind and remaining mindful between the treatment is paramount. It's can be tempting at times to zone out and use repetitive strokes to while the time away, but staying focused on the tissues you are working with will bring much more benefit to your client and will work much more in your favour as you build a reputation as 'the therapist to see'.

by Alex Boylan BSc(Hons) MBAcC


  1. mate do you have a twitter?

    • hi, i don’t have a twitter i’m afraid. alex

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