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 sixth article is on the legs: thighs, knees, and calves.
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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.
The thighs - front, back, outer, inner - are home strong, tense, big muscle groups like the quads and hamstrings.
Massage therapy can provide so much value to clients by working on this area with skillfully applied pressure, range of motion and mobility movements, and general self-care education.
But, it can be a sensitive area - both physically and mentally. And we may understandably feel apprehensive to have someone place their hands on ours, let alone request therapy for that area.
So here's some common questions we may not want to ask aloud:
Do I need to be naked? Nope. You should only remove clothing that is comfortable for you. If you'd benefit from massage to your thighs, consider contacting your massage therapist before your appointment - ask what they prefer you wear for your session. Underwear, swim trunks, bicycling shorts, yoga pants - are all good options.
Some therapists may prefer you keep on your underwear, so they can tuck a sheet into the elastic band to create a clear, firm barrier. Other therapists may not mind if you have clothing on or off, but choose to still work on the thighs through a cloth barrier - like a towel, or sheet avoiding the need to drape or tuck anything.
Even if you are comfortable going bare, the massage therapist should still practice proper sheet draping around your hips and thighs so your body is not unnecessarily exposed. Often this is called "surgical draping" - only the area being actively worked on is uncovered, and the rest of the body remains covered. Like this:
George is an active soccer player. And that means sometimes a maneuver goes wrong and he ends up with an injury. One day, it was a "groin pull" - a common sport injury to the muscles of the inner thigh. After consulting with his doctor, he wanted to try some gentle massage to the area surrounding the injury site. I asked George to wear a pair of biking shorts to his session so I could address the entire thigh without concern over sheet draping/slippage. Along with at-home care, and ample rest, the massage helped George get back on the field.
Or maybe your concerns are more with your thigh's topography - bumps, lumps, and rolls? The thighs have all different kinds of hills and valleys: bones, cellulite, fat deposits, muscular curves and dips. Most folks probably have something they don't like about their body. 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. Is there tenderness? Is there relief? 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.
The knees are large joint with a litany of connective tissues and nerves criss-crossing in every which way. Think of it like a superhighway exchange. It's a prime area for pain and discomfort due to injury, repeat motion, or just general wear and tear. And oh jeez, can they be sensitive. Clients rarely ask for massage around their knees. It can understandably be a bit nerve wracking thinking about someone applying pressure to or around that joint. It can also been highly ticklish. Which is exactly why massage therapists should apply a gradual cautious approach. If you think you may benefit from massage in this area, ask your massage therapist to go slow with broad firm contact at first. See how it feels. Reevaluate. If its too sensitive, that's okay. Having a towel or linen barrier may also help.
If you've ever experienced a "charley horse" - a painful muscle spasm of the lower leg - you have an appreciation for how powerful the muscles of the calf can be. And how they can turn against you on a dime.
Massage can be particularly relieving and useful to this area. But there tends to be one thing that really trips people up about receiving massage to the legs: body hair. Without fail, every week a massage therapy client (or two, or three) expresses their apologies and/or their self-consciousness about unshaven body hair during their appointment.
I get it totally get it. But, I also don't care. And here's why:
Massage therapy is therapy. You're here to help decrease acute or chronic pain. Encourage better range of motion. Better manage the stresses of life. To improve mood or overall wellness. Or all of the above.
Your physical appearance isn't important to achieving those goals. You could roll in your hair a mess, not a single body area shaven, and donning your oldest, most embarrassingly worn sweat pants. And that would be just fine.
If you come with make up on, it'll probably get messed up. If you take the time to style your hair, you'll likely leave with another style entirely. If you pick out a sharp outfit, you'll either remove it, or it'll be under the sheets anyway.
When it comes to unshaven hair I hear, "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry for my hairy legs!" on the regular. But really, it's no biggy. And absolutely no need to apologize. The time you are in my office is about your health and well being, not your fashion, beauty, style, or state of hair growth.
And especially if you have sensitive skin, you might want to forgo the shaving/waxing routine all together and leave your outgrowth or stubble intact prior to a massage.
Massage therapy often involves some degree of friction, and for freshly shaved skin, that could likely lead to irritation or itchiness. And who wants to be irritated during a massage?
There's lots of ways to get ready for your massage that are much more useful than removing hair. Skip the shave or wax and enjoy a nice cup of tea, a long hot soak in the tub, or a light walk instead.
So there we have it. I don't care if you shave. And you don't have to either. * * * Do you have any additional questions or concerns about the legs? 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
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 I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Hips I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Legs