Massage: your questions answered


Will a massage help a stiff neck? Can you have a massage after surgery? Is there anything you need to do to prepare for a masage? The Good Spa Guide answers your burning questions about one of the most popular spa treatments.

Do I need to do anything special before or after my massage?

No, you don't need to do anything special, but you will probably enjoy your massage more if you allow some relaxation time first.

If you can fit in a gentle swim and a sauna or steam beforehand, your muscles will be relaxed and ready to "go with the flow". You may well find you benefit more from a massage if you relax first, too.

Afterwards, wrap yourself up warm and rest for a while. Make a point of drinking plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated, and don't be surprised if you find you need to go to the loo quite often.

I like a really firm massage. How can I make sure I get one?

If you like a firm massage, you need not only the right massage but also the right massage therapist. There are many different types of massage on offer, and probably an infinite number of therapists. How can you make them work together?

If you book a gentle, gliding form of massage such as aromatherapy, you risk being disappointed if you want the deep-tissue-approach. You will be better off booking a Swedish massage, which involves kneading and long strokes to surface muscle tissues to reduce stress and tension, or a sports-therapy massage which aims to loosen muscles damaged by energetic activity.

You could also opt for a male massage therapist or ask for a therapist with experience in sports therapy massage.

If you get the chance to do none of those things, then, on the day, tell your therapist before you begin that you like a firm massage. A good therapist always checks before she starts the treatment what massage pressure is right for her client.

I spend all day on my computer. My neck is permanently stiff. Will a massage help?

We know! There's nothing quite like laptop-shoulders... Of course, the best thing for you in the long term is to improve your working habits. Scrunched over a laptop or being in thrall to any other computer is not the best way to spend your working day. Look into adjusting your seating, mouse movements, and remember to stand up and stretch every so often, no matter how riveting that spreadsheet may seem.

In the short term, however, a massage definitely has benefits, and there may be other spa treatments that can help. There's a reason why so many athletes and sports people have a regular massage. A neck, back and shoulder massage is ideal for loosening up tight muscles -- even one treatment can result in you being able to turn your head and sit a little straighter. You may even sleep better, too. However, you'll probably need a series of massage treatments to reduce muscle stiffness and ease your aches completely. You may find you need to book one treatment a week for a few weeks as this will give your therapist time to work on your tight areas and loosen them up.

You may also like to try shiatsu, a Japanese form of deep-tissue massage, that involves deep pressure on specific areas of your body, as this may also ease shoulder and neck pain.

Finally, tense muscles often respond well to heat treatment, which can help them loosen and relax. So consider booking a hot-stone massage or heated herbal poultices as part of the massage, too.

And now, stand up and stretch...

I had surgery a couple of months ago. Will it prevent me having a massage?

It depends on the surgery and it depends on the massage treatment you want to have, but a massage may be a very good idea. A 2012 study found that massage therapy after cardiac surgery significantly reduced patients' pain, anxiety, and muscular tension. (1)

There are some treatments you might not be able to have, so mention your surgery before you book. Recent surgery may well mean that you have to avoid massage in that specific area, too. Many spas provide health information on their websites or in their printed literature which tells you in advance which treatments you should not have if you have a specific health concern. Check with your doctor, too.

If you have an old scar and your condition is stable, there should be no problem. If you feel awkward about having a scar, remember this: your therapist has seen it all before.


References:

1 Braun LA, Stanguts C, Casanelia L, Spitzer O, Paul E, Vardaxis NJ, Rosenfeldt F. (2012) Massage therapy for cardiac surgery patients-- a randomized trial. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 144(6):1453-9. Accessed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22964355 April 2013

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Spa Likes

"Instant results; jasmine and frangipani scents; hot steam rooms; a good selection of magazines; modernist decor."

Spa Dislikes

"Whale noises (on CD, not in the pool hopefully); hard massage beds; tiny toilet cubicles; being spoken to like a child; lukewarm pools."