Tuesday, November 22, 2011

30, 50, 60, 75, 80, 90, 100 Minutes? The lowdown on session times.

Everywhere you go, it seems like massage therapy clinics offer a wide variety of different session length times available for your choosing.  Many businesses allow you to select between a 30-, 50-, 60-, 75-, 80-, 90-, or 100-minute session.  So it's not surprising to wonder, "How much time do I really require?"  If you aren't sure, I'll try to break it down for you based on my experience as a therapist. 

A popular massage therapy membership chain, for example, touts a "Introductory 1-Hour Massage Session" for a low price.  Not a bad deal, but you'll notice after the session is completed that you will be lucky if you got 45 minutes of actual table time.  I'm not here to berate these places, but too often, such establishments claim you will get an hour massage while not telling you that also encompasses the time for you to get situated, undress, and re-dress at the end.  So the actual session ends up being around 50 minutes and usually less.  If you are in search of a great, complete, and truly relaxing full-body massage, this may not be the best option.

I do one-hour full body massages quite often.  If you are just looking to relax, and do not wish to incorporate having specific areas attended to (such as a little attention and deep tissue work to the shoulders and neck), 60 minutes will usually suit you just fine.  However, if you do request a little extra time to iron out some low back tightness for example, it may be necessary to ask you if it is OK to leave out massaging the arms.  Otherwise, there may the tendency to feel like an hour session is a bit rushed.  If you are fine with this, an hour is the way to go.

Warming the tissue and giving a problem area the time it requires to settle down out of spasm and/or eliminating possibly several trigger points is a process.  A process, if you have a good therapist, that should not be rushed.  It's true that patience really is a virtue, and also something very scarce in our instant-gratificated world.  You wouldn't put in a hard-core workout at the gym or run a marathon without a substantial warm up.  Doing otherwise could subject you to serious injury. The same thing goes for massage;  the muscles need time to warm before serious and effective change through deeper work can occur.

So when many spas and other massage therapists offer 50-minute sessions, I wonder (and cringe) at just what that is going to accomplish or how the client will feel like if and when all of their concerns were not possibly addressed.  Thirty and 50-minute sessions should be seen as fast-forwarded relaxation-only focused sessions or work to a specific area only.  A good deep-tissue massage probably isn't going to happen in less than an hour.

Which brings me to the all-star here:  75-minutes is the absolute minimum to get the best, most sure-fire RELAXING massage session.  You may not believe it, but I wish full-body massages would all last an hour and 15 minutes.  This is the time needed to allow all areas to get the work they need in a non-hurried fashion.  And it also makes it very easy to attend to a specific area with deeper pressure while not sacrificing another (and thus it not being a true "full body" massage).  To us, many times an hour flies by and we feel like the pace and flow is going way too fast toward the end.  That extra 15 minutes goes a long way, as it allows for full warming of the whole body with clients eventually appreciating it. 

So then we have the half-hours.  In all honesty, hardly anything good at all can come out of this brief time period.  If you are only looking for a good loosening of the neck muscles only, that's ok.  Don't even attempt to request a full-body massage here.  It sort of reminds me of the days when I was working as a flight attendant for United Express.  One of our regular routes was O'hare to South Bend, Indiana.  In a car, it can take you two hours to drive this distance.  By plane, it's a quick 20-minute amusement park ride at roughly 15,000 feet.  Back in those days, passengers still indulged in treats like cashews and soft drinks no matter how short the flight.  So when the 64-capacity turboprop was filled to the gills, the beverage and snack service was a swift juggling act, heck, even a magic act.  My partner and I commonly flew through the cabin flinging bags of nuts and pouring drinks at lightning speed, all the while cruising at an altitude where the clouds liked to hang out together in large clumps and cause increased turbulence.   Think eating and drinking on a roller coaster, because that's the best analogy I can think of.  Some days, it could digress into a total barf-o-rama.  I remember picking up half-full plastic cups of soda that many people just simply could not guzzle down, especially if they were among the last people to be served.  Very often, I was still running down the aisle picking up trash as the plane was a couple hundred feet from the ground and was lucky to get buckled into the jumpseat before the tires screeched onto the runway.  The point is that we got our job done, but it would have been so much nicer to have that extra time where everyone could relax and feel a sense of calm during a potentially unpleasant experience.

90-Minute Massages: perfect for some serious deep tissue.  If you are in some serious pain, this is the best choice.  If you have pain accompanied by a chronic health issue or condition, this is the best bet.  Maybe you have a herniated disc in your back, maybe you've had a recent surgery, maybe you are still in physical therapy.  Either way, your massage therapist needs time to assess the level of pressure and which techniques will best benefit what is going on in your tissues.  Almost always, where you pain lies is not "where your problem is."  For example, if you are experiencing knee pain, your pelvis may be tilted anteriorly or posteriorly, your hip flexors may be tight and/or disengaged, and/or your calf muscles may be riddled with trigger points.  It takes time to feel and assess and decide what we think will benefit you the best.  Pain likes to develop within the deepest levels of muscle and works its way out to the superficial layers later on.  And pain itself may only materialize after there have been "issues in the tissues" for quiet a while.  So even a one-hour session could seem like it's rushed and fast-forward when you think about the process it may take to attend to different but decidedly related muscle groups contributing to the pain pattern being felt by the client.  If you have low-back pain, a good therapist will attend to your adductors, abductors, glutes, deep posterior rotators, sacroiliac joint, thoracic back, and even calf muscles in addition to those low-back erectors.  It is not uncommon to spend an hour and a half on tight IT bands and hip flexors, for example.  A client may present such increased levels of pain or unattended build-ups of hyper-irritable nodules of muscle tissue that multiple sessions may be required for change to occur.  Your muscles tend to have a mind of their own, and it's best not to fight them.  So it's best to err on having too much time for what you would like worked on instead of too little.  I have done 100-minute massages, but only when a 90-minute massage warranted just a few more minutes.  The number "100" just seems like a gimmick to me, and really would serve no further purpose other than a massage therapy business promising something bigger and better than the next place. (But not really.)

Massage therapy is a craft and an art, and I believe that what makes clients keep coming back isn't just the techniques, but how the whole session is put together and what is communicated to the client.  If we have the adequate time to work efficiently, you will be much happier, your body will thank you, and you will feel the effects longer.  So the next time a daily deal site offer pops up for a very cheap 30-minute massage, just remember to communicate clearly with the therapist what you're realistically hoping to accomplish.


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