How can I give a better massage?

Some of my clients practice massage at home with their partners and from time to time I am asked how they can improve their massage skills.

Obviously training is one way but the first piece of advice I always give is, “Listen to your client!” They will tell you if you are doing something wrong. Recently however when I gave this piece of advice I was told, “But they just fall asleep!”

This is true of some of my clients as well. It is worth noting though that most clients who sleep during a massage drift in and out of this state and will remember parts of the massage. One client of mine who often snores during much of the session is still able to tell me that she loves it when I do her feet. Is it the experience of having her feet massaged or how they feel afterwards she is telling me about? I believe both.

Some clients while they don’t sleep, do not talk at all during the massage. Not a problem if they are really enjoying it but if they feel that something is wrong and aren’t saying so, then this is a problem. Such clients need educating so that you can learn from them what helps and what doesn’t.

Feedback doesn’t have to be in words. Some clients let you know through sounds what works using sighs and changes in breathing patterns to let you know they are entering a deeper state of relaxation. This is something you can observe through your hands, when body tension drops suddenly this is a sign that you are doing something right.

Also pay attention to the breathing of you client, this tends to slow and deepen slightly when parasympathetic nervous system activity which characterises relaxation increases.

You should notice when your client tenses against your pressure. This might not mean you need to give less but it does mean you need to think about what you are doing. Is this because of an injury? Do you need to ask them to consciously relax that part of their body? If it is an injury, ideally they should have told you about this  before the massage, however I have had clients who despite being asked specifically about injuries during the consultation have only said anything when the massage itself made it an issue. Again be guided by your client.

Working with a chronic injury, sometimes a client will tell you it hurts but it is helping, a bit like the pain an athlete experiences while stretching.

I have a few clients with Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as it is often known. While true for all clients with this group especially they tend to be experts on their own bodies and what they can manage. Respect this expertise and foster it so that they can help you to give a better massage. I have re-blogged and written about this here.  Part of what I re-posted is the view that it needs a new name, “Chronic Widespread Pain Syndrome” which describes it much better. With clients who have this syndrome, it is important to check that they do not get over-tired following the massage –  too vigorous a treatment can leave them wiped out the following day.

Some practitioners follow up all their clients a day or two later to check how they are feeling following the massage. This can be a good thing if not done in too intrusive a way. Of course if doing massage with a partner it is easy to do this!