Worried about what the massage therapist sees?
Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Here's an article I wrote in May 2013.
Some people avoid getting a massage due to worries about what their therapist might see. As a practicing therapist, I would like to try to allay some of those concerns...
1) Are you looking at my wobbly legs/belly/arms?
Nope. I do not see a body-part as big/small/flabby/cellulite-marked or otherwise. I see a lovely set of muscles. Muscles fascinate me; my job is to make muscles feel good. Differently sized and shaped people provide me with new challenges. If I didn't enjoy working on all shapes & sizes, I would not be doing this job. I could tell you tales of wonderfully unusual body-parts (but of course I never break confidentiality), let's just say that I really have seen it all before and I can promise you that I have never once encountered a person I did not enjoy working with.
2) Men get erections on the massage couch, don't they?
Sometimes. As the body relaxes, the parasympathetic nervous system activates and this can cause a partial or full erection. This has nothing to do a personal reaction to the therapist; it's from the same batch of involuntary responses as drooling or passing wind whilst on the couch. Fear of an erection happening really is no reason to avoid getting a massage. Let me explain why not... therapists are taught how to drape a body in towels, so that only the part of the body being worked is 'on show'. I triple-drape the middle of the male body as this has several advantages; it keeps the client warm, makes them feel secure and it also makes it virtually impossible to see details of their body underneath. When I ask clients to turn over (from front to back), the triple-layered towels rumple up and there is no way for me to tell what is (or is not), going on.
3) I haven't shaved my legs...
The length of your body hair makes no difference to your massage, except if you have just shaved; in which case, your skin may be more sensitive than usual. In my view, it's better to have a bit of stubble than sore skin. Massage oil is a viscous liquid and it's very difficult to feel leg-stubble through it. As a straw-poll, I recently asked seven massage therapists whether their last female client had shaved her legs or not. Not one of them could remember noticing either way.
4) My underwear is tatty/going grey...
Thank goodness! That means I won't ruin good clothes with massage wax or oil. If a client hops on the couch in a posh pair of pants, I worry about wax or oil reaching the material when the client moves. By the way, I don't actually 'see' your pants, just the very edges across your back, and at your hips, as I tuck in your towels (to prevent an oil-ruination scenario).
Now, on to what the Massage Therapist DOES see...
1) Your posture.
A good therapist will be looking at how you walk, stand and sit as you arrive. People are naturally unsymmetrical, which can lead to the muscle tension you are probably having treated. And when you lie down on the couch, we will assess how you are lying. One shoulder is usually higher than the other, the hips are usually not fully aligned and one foot often twists in/out further than the other. A therapist can make you aware of your postural tendencies if they think it is having an impact on your presenting aches and pains; allowing you to make small corrections that could make a lot of difference. If your posture looks to be having an impact on your muscular aches and pains, your therapist will suggest you visit a physiotherapist for qualified assessment.
2) Where you hold your tension.
Tension is a tightening of muscles followed by their failure to relax fully again. It can stem from physical or emotional roots. Been painting a ceiling? Been anxious all day? Same result: stiff shoulders. When asked where they store tension, most clients will answer "my shoulders". Getting a massage obviously loosens stiff muscles and aids their relaxation and shoulder massage in particular feels really great, so it's natural as you feel that tension ebb away, to assume shoulders are your main problem-area. But, your therapist will also be able to tell where else you might hold tension. Very often clients are unaware of patterns of jaw-clenching (resulting in headaches and neck pain) or fist-clenching (leading to an overall sense of stress). By working on the hands and neck, it is possible to identify whether or not these areas are in a state of over-activity, and once somebody is aware of a tendency to clench, it is easier for them to work on the root cause of the problem, rather than the muscular result.
3) Your moles.
If you have moles on your back or the backs of your legs, your therapist is naturally placed to spot any which look abnormal. If one looks 'suspect' (e.g. is irregularly edged, multi-coloured, evolving rapidly), your therapist will ask you about your awareness of it and suggest that you get it checked by a GP. Chances are, everything will be fine, many abnormal looking moles are not cancerous (e.g. some develop due to hormonal changes) but your therapist can act as an alert for parts of your body which you normally don't get a good view of.
So there you are, some reasons NOT to worry about what your massage therapist sees, and reasons why what they do see can be beneficial.