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New to Massage: FAQ

What to expect from your first massage.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Thinking of getting a professional massage for the first time? You may have questions before you make the appointment.

Maybe you're self-conscious about getting undressed in front of a stranger. Or you're worried that the massage will hurt. Or you're hoping it will cure a backache you've had for years.

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To help put you at ease before your first massage, here are frequently asked questions and answers about massage. So stop fretting and just relax -- that's the whole point of getting a massage.

What type of massage should I get?

There are many different styles of massage. The most common is the Swedish massage, which is a whole-body therapeutic massage designed to relax the muscles and joints. Other popular types include deep tissue, shiatsu, hot stone, reflexology, and Thai massage. You may want to choose a specialty, like sports massage or pregnancy massage, if that suits your needs.

How should I choose a practitioner?

If you're looking for a therapist, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has a locator service on its web site, www.findamassagetherapist.org. Enter your zip code and you get a list of massage therapists who are licensed or certified (depending on the state), along with their specialties and years of experience.

AMTA recommends that your massage therapist be certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

"Everybody has different needs," says Kristen Sykora, LMT, massage therapist and AMTA member. "Every therapist practices differently. Keep trying different people until you find the one you like, because it's very important to find a good fit."

When should I schedule a massage?

Think about your day's schedule before you set up your massage. For example, don't eat right before or exercise immediately after your massage. "It's best if you can try to chill out afterward," Sykora says. "You want to take it easy after your massage so you can get the whole benefit of it."

Can massage help with a medical condition?

Massage has been shown to have a range of health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to easing migraines. Research has demonstrated that massage may help relieve pain for patients with cancer, HIV, and Parkinson's disease. Massage can also help lower stress, which is a good thing for your overall health.

"Research has shown that massage interfaces with the body's stress function," says Sandy Fritz, MS, NCMBT, author of a textbook line for therapeutic massage and director of the Health Enrichment Center in Lapeer, Mich. "It helps to dampen the flight-or-fight response and activates dominance in the rest-and-restore system."

If you have a serious medical condition, you should clear a massage with your doctor first.

Will I be naked?

You only need to take off only as much clothing as you're comfortable removing. You can leave your undergarments on if you choose, as massage can be done through clothing. The massage therapist will give you privacy while you undress or leave the room. During the massage, the therapist will use a sheet or towel to drape the parts of your body that are not being massaged.

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