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massage therapy musings &
persistent pain ponderings

I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Back

photograph of person clutching their lower back

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.

muscular anatomy diagram highlighting the back


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 referred Carl to a dermatologist, nudging that with treatment, he may feel less discomfort, and 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.

muscular anatomy diagram highlighting the back


Or maybe your concerns are more with your back's topography - bumps, lumps, moles and rolls?

The back is home to many different kinds of hills and valleys: rib bones, spinal bumps and curves, fat deposits, medical implants, moles, or scars. Like with 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 enough that 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. It's a more natural way to intentionally build a rapport - before hands make contact with the vulnerable back.

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 from "too boney" to "too fat" and everything in between.

Too lanky or too stout.

Too dry or too oily texture. Too much body hair or too little. 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. 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 lunch.

The point being, we can't control what our massage therapist is thinking about. But we can work on letting go of that concern. If you're feeling those intrusive thoughts creep in, try 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 that moment can keep unhelpful thoughts at bay.

Focus on your breath. In and out. Simple and accessible anytime.

Focus on the sensation. Follow the flow of your massage therapist's hands. Really sink into how the pressure and movement makes you feel. If the self-conscious thoughts are too distracting, it's okay to ask your massage therapist to move onto another part of your body that you're more comfortable with.

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Do you have any additional questions or concerns about the back? Feel free to contact me. Also, check out the other articles in this series below!

I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About Series


Raechel Haller Massage Therapist Holland MI Michigan

Whoa, you made it all the way down to the footer!
And might be wondering... who wrote all these words?
Well hello! My name's Raechel and I'm a massage therapist.

I enjoy researching and writing about pain and wellness; nerding out about sci-fi or Dungeons & Dragons; gardening; sailing; thoughtful conversations; loving my German Sheppard dog; and getting lost in a book. Or two. Or three.

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