Better Bodywork: How to know you’ve found a great massage therapist

A few months ago, nearly 100 people took my survey on the best and worst experiences of massage therapy. The results of which were great to know, and I’ve passed on to many therapists on how they can make your experience better, based upon your feedback.

Today I’m taking a different approach, a series of questions to ask yourself when receiving bodywork from your massage therapist. These are the criteria that I personally use when seeking a massage therapist for myself.

I am coming from a medical massage/pain relief background. If you receive massage for stress management, and not pain relief/injury recovery/prevention, then some of these may not apply.

So here they are, my top 10 for determining whether you’ve found yourself a massage therapist worth their weight in gold.

  1. How much does my massage therapist know about my health and conditions? Did I fill out a health intake when I first came to see them? Have you taken any since? (I personally ask for a new intake every 6 months for my clients, or if a new injury occurs.)
  2. Does my therapist do a verbal intake before each session (even to just check in.)
  3. Does my therapist do any tests, posture/gait assessment, or palpation prior to working?
  4. Is my therapist charting our sessions so we can determine what works for me, what doesn’t, and how sessions need to change over time? (This is usually done after you leave, so you may not know unless you ask.)
  5. Is my therapist asking for feedback during the session?
  6. Does my therapist focus just where my pain is, or do they take into account structural components to my pain? (Rarely does chronic pain stem from where the pain is. You feel the tired and tight stretch receptors that are chronically overstretched. Working the opposing muscle group will often bring longer-lasting relief.) 
  7. Do I just lie there while the therapist works on me, or am I involved in my healing process? (There is research that suggests that fascial remoldeling only occurs with an awake/aware nervous system.)
  8. Does my therapist stay current and utilize research in bodywork?
  9. Does my therapist further their education regularly to expand their depth of knowledge?
  10. Does my therapist refer me out to other practitioners who might be better suited to my conditions?

I kept this to 10 for succinctness, but another good indicator would be if they give me exercises that will help me over the long haul. Even when I already know certain stretches/exercises that will help, occasionally I need reminders to actually DO them, and I often learn new ways and techniques of doing stretches.

Please Note: These are probably the most important things I personally look for, and your criteria are likely different. That doesn’t mean they are not a good therapist for you. If you love your therapist, I encourage you to go see them!

Are there other questions you’d add? I’d love to hear them. Any you don’t think aren’t good indicators for medical massage? Why or why not?
A note for the massage therapists: Use this guide and see how you rank based upon my criteria. Are you passionate about medical massage? I’d love your feedback on this list and to learn what your criteria are when you receive bodywork. Are you in the Portland, Oregon area and meet these standards on a regular basis? I’d love to network with you, and see you for a session.

Medical practitioners: Are the massage therapists in your office living up to these standards? I’ve been to therapists working in medical centers doing little more than stress relief when the client is coming in for specific pain/ailments. I’ve also been to fantastic independent therapists who are truly top notch. If you’re needing a therapist to refer to, I’d be happy to work with your patients, or refer them to a therapist I trust. 

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