Most people receive massages in a place that is designated for massage. The environments vary, but the most common is a commercial setting, such as a spa, wellness center, or massage clinic. However, massage is becoming increasing common in other settings such as hospitals and rehabilitation clinics. On site chair massage is also offered in environments such as malls or airports, sporting events, or private parties.
This section describes a visit to a massage therapist in a private practice. The experience may be different in other environments.
First of all, make sure it is a good time for you to have a massage. Reschedule your visit if have a fever, skin irritations (such as poison ivy or sunburn), or if you are trying to stabilize your medication (because massage can affect the dosage needed).
In the days before your massage, drink plenty of water.
Do not eat just before your massage.
Give yourself enough time to arrive on time and relaxed. If you are rushing and arrive stressed, it will take longer to get into a relaxed state.
Generally, first appointments begin with an intake process, starting with a health history. The health history may be mailed out to you so you can complete it beforehand. If not, arrive early for your first visit to fill it out. Generally, a health history will ask about:
You will also likely be asked to sign forms that explain your right to privacy such as HIPAA Consent and Disclosure.
The massage therapist will review your health history and ask questions. Because massage can affect multiple body systems, such as the cardiovascular and nervous systems, be honest with the massage therapist about your health. You should also let the therapist know about any pharmaceutical drugs or botanical medicines you are taking, because massage can enhance or reduce the effect of pharmaceutical drugs, such as blood pressure medication. Knowing your history allows a therapist to determine if there are any reasons you should avoid massage or a particular technique.
The massage therapist will ask you questions to better design a session that meets your needs and goals within the time allotted. Let the therapist know what areas of your body you would like worked on, if there are any areas to avoid, and if you have any techniques that you would like to use or avoid. If you are concerned about undressing, discuss it with the therapist, who should be able to offer you some options. Don't be afraid to discuss any apprehensions or concerns. All information you give is confidential.
The therapist will outline what will happen in the session and then leave the room so you can undress to your comfort level.
When you are ready, lie down on the massage table and cover yourself with the sheet or other draping on the table. The therapist will knock before re-entering.
Generally, you will lie on a massage table, covered by a sheet or large towel. Make sure you are comfortable and let the therapist know if you are not. Tell the therapist if you are cold, want to be covered, don't want an area of your body touched, don't like the music, or are experiencing discomfort with the technique or how it is being applied. Remember, you are in charge, and can ask for changes or stop the session at any time.
A professional massage therapist will never expose genitals or breasts, or any other areas you identify. Only the area the therapist is working on will be exposed.
The therapist may play music, but be sure to tell your therapist if you would prefer a different type of music or if you would like quiet. Typically, you can also bring your own music to play during the session.
How to get the most from your massage
Be as open to the process as you can.
Relax and try let your thoughts go. One way to do this is to focus on how the touch or technique feels.
Remember to breathe, as this helps you relax. Sometimes people hold their breath when a sensitive area is massaged, but it is best to breathe through it.
In the same way, tightening your muscles during the massage is counterproductive. If you can't seem to relax your muscles, let your massage therapist know. They may need to adjust the massage technique.
Some typical techniques
Some typical techniques you might experience include the following. Click on each for a photo or video.
Answers to common questions
At the end of the massage, the therapist will leave the room so you can dress in private. Wait a few minutes on the table as you get grounded, especially if you feel light-headed. Then take your time getting ready.
When you leave the treatment room and enter into the reception area, the therapist will offer you a glass of water. It is a good idea to drink some water to help the body flush waste products.
If possible, allow some quiet time after the massage and don't go back to work or other responsibilities immediately.
How you feel after the massage will vary based on the style of massage used, the length of the session, and the demands you place on your body afterward. Feelings range from being relaxed, renewed and centered, to invigorated, excited or experiencing a rush of clarity or new energy and insight, to recognizing your true level of fatigue (particularly if you can be "off duty" for the rest of the day) and wanting only to rest.
Clinical types of massage may leave the body free from chronic tightness or acute pain patterns, but may replace it with a mild soreness from the pressure applied. After this type of massage, you may want to rest the area before jumping back into the activity that produced the soreness.
Realize that the benefits of massage tend to be cumulative, so typically, you will feel better as you get additional massages.
Answers to common questions
Massage Therapy. (2004). Medline. Retrieved April 12, 2007 from
Manipulative and Body-Based Practices: An Overview. (2007). Retrieved April 12, 2007 from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/backgrounds/manipulative.htm 
Consumers' Guide to Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Retrieved April 15, 2007 from: http://www.ncbtmb.org/consumers.php