If you've ever tried multiple spas or massage therapy offices, you know just how much variance there can be in massage tables.
This article gives clients a breakdown of just what's under the sheets and how massage tables can be good, great, or downright gross.
We'll start this tour from the surface most level and peel back the layers, going deeper until we reach the table itself.
Many massage therapists dress their tables with a top blanket. In warmer climates this is less common. Or in large spas / group practices where minimizing laundry load is a concern.
Top blankets can be good for aesthetics, making the room more comfy and inviting.
They can be great when used as a functional means to retain heat, keeping a client warm and comfortable throughout the session. A heavier weighted blanket may also serve to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation.
Top blankets can be gross when the massage therapist does not have a commitment to launder them regularly. Despite top blankets minimal contact with clients, frequent laundering is still important to reduce potential cross-client-contamination and accumulation of allergens and oils.
Next in the journey through the massage table layers, you'll find the sheets. Most commonly a flat sheet and fitted sheet, but sometimes two flats. And in some countries, you may not find sheets at all, as very large (think beach sized) towels are the norm for massage therapy.
Sheets are good for providing a barrier between client and therapist - an easy way to maintain professional draping, ensuring client comfort and protection of modesty.
They can be great when care and attention has been invested in quality materials and maintenance. Softer sheets may provide a more comfortable, tactile experience for the client.
Sheets can be gross, just like top blankets, when not properly washed and sanitized after one use with a client. There's a particularly nasty and unethical practice in some spas called "sheet stacking." The practitioner "stacks" the massage table with however many sheets will be needed for however many clients are scheduled that day. As each client is finished, the practitioner only remove the top layer of linens, and proceeds to the next client on the next layer of linens down.
Doesn't matter what the thread count is, sweat and bodily fluids can and will soak through sheets. So with the stacking method, clients are laying down on sheets that have been soiled through the previous set. Ick. If you ever notice stacking - demand a refund, inform the owner/manager, leave, and consider contacting your local health department.
And that grossness brings us to the next layer. Arguably the most important layer of them all.
Most massage tables have many more layers of stuff (which we'll go into later) to go before we hit the table itself. Because of that, we need a barrier.
Good barriers are usually vinyl, bamboo or plastic; waterproof; and cover the entire table, just like a mattress protector. Any pillows in use should also have proper barriers.
Great barriers are also hypoallergenic.
When a barrier is absent, doesn't cover the whole table, or isn't waterproof - that's gross. While sheets should be changed after each client, it's rare that any additional layers beneath the sheets (warmers, wool toppers, memory foam) can be washed or changed between clients due to the materials or logistical practicality.
Sweat and cooties will def soak through the sheets layer and into anything beneath. All clients, every client. All day, every day.
So unless you want to be laying in the previous guy's (and the previous guy's... and the previous guy's... and the previous guy's...) dried out bodily liquids, look for that protective barrier layer... or look elsewhere for massage therapy.
Next, underneath that absolutely required barrier is any number of toppers: wool, cotton, memory foam, etc.
Toppers are good to increase a client's comfort on the table - especially for a longer session duration.
They can be great when working in conjunction with the next layer - heating pads - to retain additional warmth to increase relaxation further. Or, provide extra squish for sore and achy joints and muscles.
Toppers can be gross when like mentioned above, there's not an appropriate barrier to keep them safe from daily sweat accumulation from clients. And while not necessarily a grossness factor, allergy concerns should also be taken into account when selecting the materials. Someone with a wool allergy or sensitively likely would not appreciate having a reaction during their massage simply because a barrier was not put in place to protect them.
Many massage therapists place an electric or infrared heating pad somewhere within the massage table's layers.
Heating pads are good at keeping a client comfortable and warm. Especially when clients disrobe, even in a warm temperature room, it can get chilly after a while.
They are additionally great at providing a therapeutic benefit - both aiding in soothing the nervous system and increasing blow flow to muscle tissues. I've long since lost count of how many clients truly love slipping into the comfort of a heated table - even in warmer months, it's a great way to start the massage session.
And once more, they can be gross if not properly separated from the sheets by a barrier. A few models are machine washable, but it is unlikely a massage therapist is going to have multiple heating pads and wash each one between appointments.
And now we finally get to the table itself. As with any professional equipment, there's plenty of variances. Size, pad quality, weight capacity, height, and adjust-ability are the major factors that can really impact your massage therapy session.
Good tables will provide clients with firm but comfortable support.
Great tables will offer adjustments to the face cradle, and elevation to the knees or chest (alternatively, additional pillows or wedges can be used). They also typically have higher quality frames (solid wood instead of aluminium) and thicker pads.
Gross tables are ones with wear and damage that promotes unsanitary or unsafe conditions. Although not as big a concern as anything that sits atop them, tables should still be routinely inspected, washed, and any rips, tears, or loose parts should be immediately addressed.
ODDS N ENDS
And there we have it, the anatomy and layers of a massage table.
As a closing note, many massage therapists also have a variety of bolsters, props, wedges, or pillows on hand to ensure maximum client comfort. These tools can also be useful in supporting or isolating an injured/compromised area.
Remember, if anything about the massage table or any of its layers is uncomfortable during your therapy session - speak up. No matter if it's the first five minutes or the last five minutes - speak up. There's likely an alternative available and your massage therapist should be happy to help.