Massage therapy can bring up all kinds of anxiety and self-consciousness 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 article is on the head. The scalp, hair, and face.
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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 scalp's skin due to dandruff, psoriasis, scabs, eczema?
Skin conditions on the scalp are incredibly common. Here's a few things to consider.
Sometimes the friction of massage or ingredients within the oil/lotion may be an unwelcome irritant. If you're actively receiving treatment or managing a condition, check with your dermatologist or other health care provider if massage should be avoided in general. Or, if 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.
Sheryl often apologized about her "snow globe" dandruff. I assured her it was fine and that she'd be surprised how many folks left a dusting behind. That got a smile, and she then shared how Head and Shoulders just never seemed to work. I suggested she check with her dermatologist. Turns out it was eczema, and she got the needed treatment to keep it at bay.
Some folks also just don't like the sensation of their scalp being massaged. One client told me he just can't stand the feeling of his scalp skin shifting around. And that's okay. Some people's relaxation is another person's nails on a chalkboard. But if you've never had a scalp massage, give it a try. Many of the muscles around the temples, skull, and eyebrows can hold significant stress tension.
Or maybe your concerns are more about your scalp's topography - scars, indents, lumps?
No one has a perfectly round head. If you look close enough, not even Charlie Brown. And even if we started out life with a pretty round noggin, life can happen. Cuts and bumps tend to leave a lasting impression in areas where there's not much else but skin and bone.
If there's an area that is tender or you'd prefer to be avoided, but don't want to miss out on the rest of your scalp massaged, make sure to say so before a massage - especially if it is hidden by hair or not visually apparent. And if your massage therapist forgets, kindly remind them.
Right along with the scalp comes the hair (or lack thereof).
Sometimes hair is off limits for practical reasons - when someone has somewhere to be after a massage therapy session and doesn't want to show up with "massage head."
Or, they have hair extensions or treatments that would be negatively impacted by excessive friction or oil/lotion exposure. Extra protection like a shower cap or cloth wrap can be super useful. And just like with the scalp, the actual sensation of their hair being touched may be someone's favorite part of the session. To others, it's a hard pass. Hair - its thickness, length, color, style, and texture - can also carry a lot of connotations and assumptions around health, culture, status, youth, and expression. It's natural for us be conscious of how others will interpret or judge our hair. Especially when their hands are literally on or in it.
If you're self-conscious about your hair, or lack of hair, consider what may make you more comfortable. Would it help to say something? Sometimes speaking to an elephant in the room helps.
Greg, a first time client, came in with a ball cap on. Near the end of the intake process he took it off and stated: "So, my hair is thinning." I said, "Okay, do I need to modify anything for you?" He replied, "Yeah, let's skip my head for now." And I finished with, "No problem, can do."
Would you rather keep on your wig, wrap, hat, or cap? That's totally fine. Nearly all massage therapist's policy is something like: take off or leave on whatever is most comfortable for you. The key is "for you" - you define how you want to be presented, what you show or do not show.
After much searching, Alex finally found her Perfect Wig. It felt so right, she wanted to wear it all the time. We used a shower cap to protect it from lotion, while also providing Alex circular pressure around her temples - her fav part of the massage.
Would you prefer to take it all off? That's totally fine too.
Mary was undergoing chemotherapy. Since it was winter, she often wore hats to keep her head warm. But during massage sessions, she preferred baring her bald head. She said her hair not interfering during scalp massage was the one silver lining of the cancer treatments.
Faces are literally our interface to the world, to each other. They are home of some of the densest collections of nerves. And we often feel very vulnerable about others touching or being near our face.
Massage may be helpful in alleviating headache-causing tension, sinus pressure, or just promoting general relaxation. But to be effective, we've got to be comfortable.
If you're feeling uncertain, but want to give it a go, try these things:
Focus on another sense. Listen intently to the music in the room, or your own breath, or the feel of the fabric on your fingers.
Skip or limit facial make-up. Massage therapy is not kind to make-up. It will definitely smudge or spread. If you come to your session with make-up on, bring a remover wipe. If you prefer to leave with make-up on, bring your kit with you and reapply in the restroom. Just be sure to leave it off or reduce during the massage. Relax your jaw. Place your tongue behind your two-front teeth to set the jaw in a neutral position. Often jaw muscles can be very tense. Be sure to communicate with your massage therapist if their pressure is too firm and causing discomfort. * * *
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 Legs
I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Feet