What to Expect During Your First Professional Massage

Posted by Melissa Milne on

You may not know what to expect when receiving your first massage. You’ve probably heard a mix of glowing reports and horror stories from others who have received massages in the past and are not sure which experience you’ll have.

Here are a few guidelines to help you have the best experience possible when receiving your first treatment. These guidelines are applicable to the United States and vary drastically when you travel.

First and foremost, make sure the therapist you’re making an appointment with is licensed in the state in which they’re working.


Being licensed means they’ve been educated in accordance with state requirements, and they’ve passed a licensing exam. It also means that they take continuing education classes and make the effort necessary to re-certify every four years. If any legal actions or complaints have been made against them, they can lose their massage license. So if they don’t have one, there may be a red flag there. Ask them if you can see a copy of their massage license as they are required by law to have it with them whenever they are giving a massage. If they’re working for a company, they most likely have a massage license as it is required when applying for a job as a Massage Therapist, but you can still ask if it makes you feel more comfortable. That being said, having a massage license does not mean they are a good massage therapist or that they have integrity.

While it’s important to make sure your therapist has a massage license, it’s only a general hoop to jump through to assure they’re on the up and up. Their true character and quality will be seen by whether or not they have a busy practice, what others who have worked with them have to say about their work, and how you feel in their presence.

Working with a therapist who is open to answering your questions is important, especially when you’re receiving your first treatment. Ask them as many questions as you need to, prior to and during the massage, in order to make sure you feel comfortable working with them.


When you arrive for your massage, you will either walk into a waiting room or directly into the room where you’ll receive your massage. If it’s a place where multiple therapists are practicing massage, you will most likely need to check in with the front desk person, then wait for your therapist to come and get you. When they do, they’ll greet you and escort you to the massage room. There, they’ll ask you questions about how you are, what you’re feeling in your body, and whether or not you have a history of injuries and/or surgeries. This is a great time to ask them questions also. When your initial interview is over, the therapist will leave the room so you can get undressed and get on the massage table in privacy. You should then remove any jewelry that will get in the way of the treatment (especially necklaces, watches, and bracelets). You will also remove whatever clothing you and the massage therapist agree are necessary to remove. You will then get on the table, covering yourself with the top sheet and/or blanket they provide. In just a few moments, your massage therapist will come into the room and begin the treatment. If you’re uncomfortable on the table, speak up at any time and your therapist should help you get more comfortable.

During the treatment, you can fall asleep, or stay awake. It’s helpful to only engage in conversation that’s necessary, so the therapist can focus on what they’re doing, and so you can relax completely. Some therapists and clients are more comfortable talking throughout but don’t feel that you have to do this. If you have a talkative massage therapist, and it’s bothering you, find a polite way of saying you need some quiet so you can really relax. You can always say “It’s been a tough week and I really need to zone out.”


It’s important that you tell your therapist when they’re hurting you. You can also ask them questions when you want to understand more about what they’re doing. When the massage comes to a close, the massage therapist will leave you again so you can get off of the table and get dressed in privacy.


When you pay for your massage, it’s customary to leave a tip. Usually, a 10 to 20 percent tip based on a $60 treatment (the median charge in America) will suffice. If you’re incapable of tipping, that’s also fine, but your therapist will notice and might take it as a statement about their work. You can absolutely address this, apologizing for not tipping. They’ll understand. Your therapist will recommend when you should come in next, depending on the depth of the tension or the intricacy of the issue you’re working on. Some therapists will set up what they call a ‘treatment plan’ for you. That’s totally normal, and considered a professional practice in the massage therapy world.


Consistent massage is extremely beneficial for relaxation as well as immune support and overall health. Over time, you and your massage therapist will build a comfortable working knowledge of each other. As you continue to receive treatments from your therapist, the treatment quality will get better and better because you’ll become more comfortable with them, and your therapist will get to know your likes and dislikes.

Being completely naked for your first massage isn’t necessary.

In a massage therapist’s eyes, the most important thing should be your comfort. It’s helpful during treatment if a woman wears no bra so that all of the muscles in the back are easily accessible. If you’re not comfortable with this, however, any massage therapist is capable of working around bra straps. Similarly, underwear doesn’t have to be taken off for the treatment either. Even if you’re working with muscular issues of the hip, the therapist should have been taught how to work through the fabric of underwear and/ or a sheet. In some cases, an individual is uncomfortable with removing any clothing at all. This will greatly limit the techniques used by your massage therapist, but it should not prohibit the treatment. If a massage therapist insists you take off an article of clothing even when you’ve stated that you don’t want to, then I recommend you find a therapist who’s open to working within your comfort zone.

Nudity with no draping is not necessary and may even compromise the integrity of the treatment. During your massage session, you can expect to have only one area of your body uncovered at a time. When the therapist is done with, say, your left leg, most times, they’ll cover that leg and uncover the next area of your body. Effective draping allows the client and massage therapist to feel safe and comfortable and leaves no question about boundaries. As you and your massage therapist become more comfortable with each other, she or he may uncover larger areas of your body to include more creative massage techniques.


In America, it’s common practice to be covered with a sheet and/or blanket during a massage treatment. In Europe and other areas of the world, nudity with little or no sheet covering during a massage is the norm. In some of these countries, I’ve heard that the therapist actually stays in the room while you’re undressing. Massage is a therapeutic activity and is designed to positively affect the health of the client. But that doesn’t mean that the social norms will be the same around massage when you travel. This article focuses on what you can expect in the states.

A note on side effects

It’s absolutely normal to be sore the day after a treatment. One of the intentions of pinpointed pressure is to help restore and repair the tissue in that spot. Deep pressure not only brings blood to the area, but it also brings immune system activity and hydration, which helps clean up old, damaged tissue. This can have the same effect as inflammation: slight swelling and soreness. Bruising, or red chaffed areas the day after a massage is not normal unless that was part of the intention explained to you by the therapist. A normal massage will never leave marks on you. There are, however, some treatments that include what’s called scraping or cupping that can leave marks. Your therapist should have explained this to you before starting. If you have black and blue marks from their hands alone, then they gave too much pressure too quickly. Fatigue is also a normal side effect of a good massage. Toxins or viruses that have laid dormant in your tissue can be released into the bloodstream. While they’re processing, you may feel tired, moody or down. Give it a day, drink lots of water, and rest. Over time, as you receive more massages, your body will have less of what I call ‘fall out’…less soreness, fatigue, and heaviness. Regular massage is great for cleansing your tissues and will have a profoundly positive effect on your health and feelings of wellness.

Massage tools, rarely used in professional massage
If you have more questions about side effects from massage, feel free to ask me in the comments section below. I’ve been giving massages for over 17 years, professionally and have also taught and mentored other massage therapists. What I’ve found is that massage is an extremely useful tool. When you find a good therapist, one who gives effective treatments and that you feel comfortable with, stick with them.

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