Find the right therapist
Just as you would with an MD, select a certified massage therapist who meets your specific needs, whether you’re looking to soothe postmarathon aches or relieve a stiff neck. General certification in Swedish massagelong, sweeping strokes over the entire bodyfits the bill when you’re simply looking to relax. (Swedish is what you’ll get if you ask for a basic massage; Shiatsu, or acupressure, features more targeted finger pressure in specific areas.) Go here to find the most experienced certified massage therapists in your area.
Before the massage begins, mention any areas of your body that are feeling sensitive, tight, painful, or tender (like a knot in your neck or an achy spot in your shoulder); these should be treated with particular care, according to Leena Guptha, an osteopathic doctor, a licensed massage therapist, and past president of the American Massage Therapy Association.
Most massage isn’t painful, though moderate pressurewhich studies have found is necessary to provide optimal therapeutic benefitsmay feel a little uncomfortable, especially if you’re new to massage. Is the pressure too intense? Don’t be shy. Guptha suggests saying something like, “That really hurts. Can you try something different or skip this area?” A good therapist should welcome (or even ask for) your input.
Pick your products
It’s acceptable to bring your own lotion or oil, especially if you have sensitive skin, a sensitive nose, or a condition like eczema or psoriasis. Another option: Ask the therapist to show you her product stash and discuss the options (many are fragrance-free). “There are dozens available for different types of massage, and your therapist should have a variety to choose from,” Guptha says.
Reschedule if you have a cold
“Postpone your massage if you feel a cold or migraine coming on,” Guptha says. “The massage will stimulate your circulation, which could leave you feeling worse.” If you’re a little stuffy or just find it difficult to breathe when lying face-down, ask to lie on your side. An experienced therapist can perform most techniques this way, or she can work on your upper back, neck, and shoulders while you’re in a sitting position.
Period? No problem
There’s no medical reason to avoid a massage during your period, Guptha says. In fact, it can ease PMS symptoms like cramps and backache. But if you’re worried about heavy bleeding, just wait a few days.