Massage therapy can bring up all kinds of anxiety and self-conscious thought gremlins. And often they get in the way of receiving the pain and stress relief that massage can provide.
This series is a literal head to toe candid exploration of the many common body concerns that make us hesitant to schedule, or uneasy once on the table. If you've had some of these same worries, know you're not alone. And perhaps this info will give you new resolve to give it a go.
This first fourth is on the back.
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First and foremost, you can always request that your massage therapist skips whatever area of your body you don't want them to massage. It's your time, your session, your body.
Concerned about the condition of your back's skin due to acne or blackheads?
Blemishes on the back are incredibly common. However, friction during a massage or ingredients within the oil/lotion may be an unwelcome irritant.
If you're receiving treatment or trying to manage a breakout, check with your dermatologist or other health care provider if massage should be avoided in general. Sometimes it may be useful to get some extra hydration and stimulation to that skin. But as with anywhere else, if there are open sores or broken skin, avoiding the area is going to be standard protocol.
Carl struggled with deep, painful acne across his upper back well into his thirties. Out of embarrassment, he rarely showed anyone his back, but on-going muscular tension causing sleepless nights brought him in for a massage. He asked if he could keep his shirt on during the session. Of course. Through the shirt, I felt several large bumps and asked if they were too sensitive for me to apply pressure around. Some were, and some weren't. So I worked based on what was comfortable for that day. I kindly referred Carl to a dermatologist, nudging that with proper treatment, we may have a more effective massage. Carl saw the doc, and with a prescription for cystic acne, his back cleared up substantially. We were able to do a shirt-off massage that was much more comfortable, relaxing, and effective.
Or maybe your concerns are more with your back's topography - bumps, lumps, moles and rolls?
The back is home to many hills and valleys: rib bones, spinal bumps, fat deposits, medical implants, moles, or scars tracks. Like the chest, baring our back can feel very vulnerable.
Throughout my years of practicing massage therapy, I've favored starting the session with clients face up (looking at the ceiling). There's lots of reasons I do this, but the top reason is: laying face down in a strange room, having strange hands come at your vulnerable back can be understandably unnerving. Not for everyone of course, but for most, I like to gradually make my way to their back. So we start face up - you can see where I am and what I'm doing. We begin the session face-to-face, eye-to-eye. I intentionally build a rapport - before my hands start coming at you outta no where.
Most folks probably have something they don't like about their back. I have heard clients express negative self-talk or apologize for their body being "too boney" and "too fat." Too lanky or too stout. Dry or oily texture. Body hair. Faded tattoos. Surgical scars. Stretch marks. Birth marks. You name it, I've seen it, and someone on my table has felt bad about it.
It can be a challenge when we're on the table to turn off that part of our mind that wonders what the massage therapist is thinking about our body. The truth is, we'll probably never know. Maybe they are being judgemental. Or maybe they're thinking about what to have for lunch.
For me, I'm usually thinking about all the tissues and structures that lay beneath my hands. Sort of like how Lord Zedd from Power Rangers* looks. I'm thinking about what I might suggest for your at-home care. I'm actively trying to apply all my knowledge and experience to bring you relief from pain and stress. And maybe also my lunch.
The point being, we can't control what our massage therapist is thinking about our bodies. But we can work on letting go of that concern. If you're feeling those invasive thoughts creep in, try these this:
Focus on the music. Listen intently to the music in the room. Get lost in the melody. Better yet, ask if you can suggest the music. Or bring in your own - something that really takes your mind off everything but being in the moment.
Focus on your breath. In and out. Simple and accessible anytime.
Focus on the sensation. Follow the flow of your massage therapist's hands. Feel how good the pressure makes you feel. If the self-conscious thoughts are too distracting, it's okay to ask for them to move onto another part of your body that you're more comfortable with.
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I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About Series
I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Head I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Arms I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Chest I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Back
coming soon... I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Hips I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Legs
I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Feet
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*Note: This is Lord Zedd from Power Rangers. He's basically a whole bunch of muscle and exposed brain tissue with cool silvery braces. Minus the metal, this is how I view most of my clients when they're on my massage table. My thoughts are focused on following the length, direction, and subjective tension within your soft tissues.