Does Getting Naked Make You Nervous? A Massage Therapy Primer.


LowResolution-99Taking off your clothes for a massage is, at best, slightly unnerving.

Did I remember to shave my legs? Is my deodorant working? Should I leave my underwear on or off? What happens if I fart? I feel so old/fat/wrinkly/fill in the blank, who would ever want to touch me? Painful stuff!

I know that people think these things before they get on the massage table. I do have a few people who are actually brave enough (or nervous enough) to verbalize these worries. Never fear, faithful massage goers, I’m going to tell you what’s actually on my mind when I massage you. And let me say, it’s not your fat, your wrinkles, or even your farts. Read on to see what I’m really looking for when I massage. Spoiler : it’s nothing like what you’re fearing.

Top 10 things I look for after the clothes are off

1. Postural Patterns: in an ideal world, we’d all have perfect posture. But, the reality is it requires endurance to retain an upright posture. It’s easy to let things go and create patterns of tightness and weakness in the body. Some examples of postural patterns that I look for are both shoulders rolled forward, one shoulder raised higher than the other (or both of them up to your ears), and if your head and neck are craned forward rather than balanced on your spine.

2. Symmetry: If you’ve got a muscle or bone on one side of your body, you have a corresponding muscle or bone on the other side of your body. I look to see if there’s a all those muscles and bones are reasonably symmetrical, or if something is tighter on one side that it is on the other. It can tell me a lot about how you use your body if all of your muscles are tight on the right side but the left side looks completely different.

3. Muscle tone: Are your muscles super tight or are they flaccid? Normal muscle tone helps to support your body and normal motion. If your muscles are over tight your movements may be restricted. If your muscles have low tone, it may mean that you are favoring an injury or that area of your body isn’t functioning at a optimal level.

4. Breathing: I watch your breath to assess how you are doing with my pressure during the massage. Invariably you’ll start breathing faster when I’m doing something that is painful, or on the borderline of becoming painful. I’ll ease up if I see you breathing faster. I also pay attention to where you are breathing. If you are taking a bunch of short, quick breaths high in your chest, I’ll suggest taking some deep breaths from your belly to help promote a more relaxed state.

5. Trigger points: Trigger points are hyper-irritable spots within a muscle that often produce pain when touched. Some trigger points are severe enough to cause pain without touch. When I’m able to find a trigger point, you’ll produce what’s called a “jump sign”. Your muscle will visibly twitch when I hit the point, and you’ll have a pain response large enough to want to “jump” away from the pressure.

6. Holding patterns: Along with the postural patterns, you may have holding patterns in your body. Think of these patterns as the places that you feel the most tension in your body. For example, I have one client who feels like her shoulders are always up by her ears. Her upper shoulders are where she holds her tension. Even when she’s on the table her shoulders will creep up toward her ears. Even if it’s not a great pattern, it’s what is comfortable and familiar for her body.

7. Fascial health: Your fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds all your muscles, muscle groups, bones and organs. Fascia holds all of this in place. Fascial shortening, adhesions (you’ll find more information on adhesions below), restrictions due to inflammation, trauma, surgery or postural imbalances all can affect the health of your fascia. Symptoms (aches, pains, funny sensations) that appear unrelated might actually be transmitted from one part of the body to another due to fascial imbalances.

8. Skin abnormalities: Getting a massage is a great way for someone to see parts of your body that under normal conditions you rarely see yourself. I’ll let you know if I see a mole that looks a little abnormal. I look for swelling, bruises, areas that are hotter or colder than normal. All of these things can point to underlying conditions of which you may not be aware. This gives you the option to have them checked out by someone who knows more about those kinds of conditions.

9. Muscular adhesions: These are bands of fibrous scar tissue that bind together muscles that are usually separate. You’ll associate these adhesions with the bumpy, crunchy things that you can feel in your shoulders when you sit in front of the computer too long. Working these adhesions out will help restore proper muscular movement.

10. Lipomas: A lipoma is a benign tumor composed of fatty tissue. Usually these will not cause you problems, but sometimes larger ones can cause restrictions in movements. There are some sources that claim that lipomas can become malignant, however this has not been proven. Regardless, I’ll let you know if I see one just to make sure that you are aware of it so you can see out treatment if you so choose.

Fact: Taking off your clothes can unsurface lot of insecurities.

In this case, and as is often the case, your worst fears don’t necessarily reflect reality. I’m am looking at your body, but not in the way that you fear! I’m not here to measure your body hair, wrinkles, body fat percentage or anything like that.

At Watershed Community Wellness in Portland, we work hard to create a space that is free from judgment, and I’ve seen enough bodies to understand that there’s no one perfect way of being.  So – relax and enjoy your massage!


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