Health & Safety > Cross Training > Massage Therapy


By Leigh Finner, L.M.T.

Leigh Finner has been a licensed massage therapist since 1986 and is licensed in both New York and Florida. She was included in the 1995 "Best of" Issue of the New York Magazine as one of the 15 Best Massage Therapists in New York. Leigh started her career working in health clubs in New York and a day spa in Florida. For 2 years she had the great fortune to work for Westside Dance Physical Therapy in the therapy room of the New York City Ballet. She now has a thriving midtown private practice. Her clientele includes dancers, professional athletes, personal trainers and athletes from all walks of life.

What does massage do - other than feel good?

Massage:

  • Helps rid the body of toxins
  • Stretches superficial tissue
  • Assists lymphatic and venous flow
  • Helps to break up and loosen subcutaneous scar tissue
  • Increases nutrition to the cells and skin
  • Can help reduce certain types of Exema
  • Increases respiration to the skin
  • Stimulates the sensory receptors (nerves) of the skin and deeper tissue
  • And it can feel great!


I've never had a professional massage - what should I expect?

On your first visit, your massage therapist should do an intake - asking questions about your general health, specific injuries and whether you are under a doctor's care. They may also ask you to stand or walk around and let them watch you. This is the time for you to ask any questions you have for the therapist. The entire process should only take a few minutes. It should not substantially cut into your massage time.

The therapist will then give you instructions on how they want you on the table (face up/down etc.) They should be out of the room while you are changing.

The massage room should be clean, private and quiet. Some therapists like to use music, candles, aroma therapy or soothing sounds to enhance your relaxation. If you don't want any of those things you are free to ask the therapist to stop using them. Also, each therapist likes to use a special oil or lotion. If you have something you like to use on your skin, bring it and they will be happy to use it.

During the massage
If you are getting a massage for feel-good relaxation, there should be little or no talking. For deep tissue work the therapist will probably be checking in with you to make sure you are tolerating the work and to remind you to breathe and relax. I will sometimes use light conversation to distract my clients when I am doing very deep work.

As the client, you control the massage - talk / no talk - music / no music / different music - scents / no scents - deeper / lighter. If you are in any way uncomfortable - speak up. Don't ever suffer in silence. Make your wishes known.


Do I have to take my clothes off?

For any massage involving lotion or oil, yes, you do need to be undressed. A massage therapist must have access to your body.

However, if you are uncomfortable being completely disrobed, you should leave your underwear on - the therapist will work around them or move the fabric away from the glutes (butt muscles) to work those specific muscles. The breasts and genitals are not worked on during a massage.

Your should never be on the table without being covered by a sheet or towel. The only part of the body that should be exposed is the part the therapist is working on. When you turn over you should still be covered. Any massage therapist who works with a client undressed and fully exposed is not in my opinion a professional.

When the massage is over, the therapist should leave the room and allow you time to get up and get dressed before they come back into the room.


What credentials or degrees should I look for when seeking a massage therapist?

The following states require either a license or certification to practice massage:
Alabama - License
Arkansas - License
Connecticut - License
Delaware - License / Certification for a technician
Florida - License
Hawaii - License / Permit for apprentice
Iowa - License
Louisiana - License
Maine - License
Nebraska - License
New Hampshire - License
New Mexico - License
New York - License
North Dakota - License
Ohio - License
Oregon - License
Rhode Island - License
South Carolina - License
Tennessee - License
Texas - License
Utah - License
Virginia - License
Washington - License
Washington DC. - License
West Virginia - License

Note: New Jersey has legislation in progress to become a licensed state. Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin have passed laws that are not yet in effect.

In these states you should seek out and use only licensed people. Just because they are licensed does not mean they are good therapists. It does mean they have committed time, effort and money to learn their craft.

In an unlicensed state you should look for a NCETMB (National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork) holder. This is a national certification.

Another thing you should look for is continuing education credits. It is important for a massage therapist to stay current with new ways of working and to expand their knowledge of massage and the human body.


What sort of training (and over how long a period) goes into these degrees and credentials?

Some licensed states require both written and practical exams (Arkansas, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas). Most require only a written exam (Alabama, Connecticut*, Delaware*, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa*, Maine*, Nebraska, New Mexico*, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah*, Virginia*, Washington*, Washington DC.). Louisiana requires a written and oral exam. Tennessee and West Virginia require no exam.
* Use the NCETMB exam.

Most schools require at least 500 - 1000 hours of schooling.


How do I find a massage therapist?

Of course, the best way is to get someone you know to refer their therapist to you. You can also call dance companies or sports teams in your area and see who they use.

To get a list of massage therapists in your area, you can call:

Associated Bodywork - Massage Professionals (ABMP)
phone: 800.458.2267
e-mail: expectmore@abmp.com
web site: www.abmp.com

American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)
phone: 847.864.0123 for the phone number of local chapter nearest you
e-mail: info@inet.amtamassage.org
web site: www.amtamassage.org

You can call day spas and health clubs - however these places usually do a relaxation / feel-good massage, so make sure you ask for someone who does deep tissue or therapeutic work.

As a last resort, you can check the phone book or local publications. Unfortunately, prostitutes and escort services are still using massage as a cover for their businesses. If you see any of the following in an advertisement, just know you may not get the legitimate massage you are looking for:

  • Discreet / confidential
  • Beautiful girls / models
  • Gentleman's choice
  • Intimate
  • Lunch time / afternoon special
  • Anything that talks about how the therapist looks


How do I take care of myself after a massage?

You should drink plenty of water to flush the toxins out of your system. If you have access to a steam room or whirlpool, they are ideal ways to continue cleansing the system. If not, a hot shower followed by a soak bath is also a great follow-up.

For the 24 hours after a deep tissue massage you may feel a little sore or achey. This is a normal response - a lot of stuff gets stirred up and that feeling is a healing response. It should go away within 24 - 36 hours. Rest, healthy eating and fluids will help minimize the response.

You should treat yourself like a fine piece of crystal. Not like a plastic beer mug. Be aware of how you are using your body and where you are in space.


The next installment will include:

  • What types of massage are available?
  • Why is massage important for a dancer?
  • What ailments and complaints do you find most frequently among dancers?
  • As a dancer, what should I know about my body?