By Sue Shekut, Licensed Massage Therapist, ACSM Personal Trainer, Certified Wellness Coach, Owner, Working Well Massage
I like to think of myself as not only a good massage therapist but also a good judge of massage therapists. I’ve had thousands of massages and given thousands of massages. As the owner of a wellness company, I interview many massage therapists and receive regular massage myself. Often, when clients travel or move out of town, they ask me how to find a good massage therapist.
It’s a question very similar to “how do I find a good dentist or a good doctor”. Since massage is a personal service, my first impulse is to say, ask your friends and coworkers who they go to and start there. But then, we’ve all had referrals to service people that our friends liked that were not a good fit for us. (One person may like a deep massage and you may like a lighter touch or vice versa. One person’s fantastic hair stylist may be great for that person but be unable to cut your style of hair well.)
Before you search out massage therapists, take a minute to think about what you want from a massage experience. Then when you call different therapists or massage centers, ask questions to make sure you get the massage therapist that best fits your needs.
Good questions to consider:
1. Are you going for stress relief or pain relief or both? Swedish massage or “relaxation massage” tends to be best for stress relief. Deep tissue or therapeutic massage tends to be best for pain relief. If you have a specific injury or chronic pain pattern, you will want a massage therapist with skill in relieving muscle pain, not just in relaxation therapy.
2. What’s your budget for massage?
Can you afford a weekly full hour (prices ranging from $65 to $120) or only mini-sessions (like the 15-20 minute $1 per minute chair massages offered at Whole Foods and similar places). If you have a chronic neck and shoulder pain, it’s often more cost effective to get weekly 20-minute massages than a one hour once a month.
3. Do you want someone you can go to regularly or just on a pamper yourself basis?
Spas tend to charge the most for massages and tend to be the place people go for pampering. However, some independent massage therapists may be able to offer you better prices and a really personalized pampering experience. Spas charge the most but they will give you the whole pamper yourself experience. However, if you want a regular massage your best bet is to find a good practitioner that is reasonably priced. If you can’t afford an hour regularly, try chair massage for 15-20 minutes if you want more frequent upper body massages.
4. How much do you care about the quality of the massage?
If you just want someone to pamper you and rub oil on your back while you relax and snooze away your stress, you don’t need someone with extensive experience or medical massage training. If you want someone to help you recover from an injury or deal with a chronic tension issue, you will likely want someone with a good deal of experience and skill working with similar conditions. Make sure you massage therapist meets minimal licensing and certifications standards if you want more than just relaxation massage!
5. Do you want the whole massage enchilada: the robe, slippers, the soothing music and spa environment? Or do you care more about the environment or more about the actual massage?
For the slippers and robe, go to a spa like Urban Oasis or Exhale in Chicago. For a great therapeutic massage, it’s more important to find a good practitioner. Use the locator services below and then speak with the therapist about his or her skill before you commit to the appointment.
Massage Locator Services
My top sources for great massage therapists are massage locator services (versus Google or any other search engine). Massage therapists that register with these services must meet minimum standards of training, normally 500 hours or more and have graduated from an accredited massage school.
One of the best is the Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals massage practioner site here.
Massage Today also has a great service as well here.
Insider Pages is a review site that provides user comments about massage and spa services.
How Do I know if My Massage Therapist is Qualified?
In the State of Illinois, Licensed Massage Therapists are required by law to have at least 500 hours of training and graduate from an approved school. You can look up your therapists to see if he or she is licensed at this site. This site will also display a Y or N to indicate whether the massage therapist has ever undergone disciplinary action by the state of Illinois’s Department of Financial and Processional Regulation.
Other states vary in requirements. Some states do not require a license at all and allow municipalities to regulate massage. For example, in California, there is no state license. Hours of training required vary depending on the city. So some therapists in Northern California only have 100 hour of actual massage training! The Truth About California Massage Licensing here. However, at the other end of the spectrum is New York State, which requires 1000 hours of training. New York Licensing Requirements here
Still Unsure, Try a Sample Massage
Lastly, if you want to try a sample massage, your best bet is to try a chair massage at Whole Foods Gold Coast or Lincoln Park in Chicago. Or at a local health food store or mall. You can get a few minutes of massage, determine if the therapists fits your needs, then ask for his or her business card to set up a longer massage!
If you have questions about Chicago area massage therapists, feel free to contact Working Well Massage here!
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