One of the questions I try to always ask new clients, in addition to “where would you like me to focus today” is “Is there any part of your body you don’t want touched at all?” It might seem like a strange question at first but so many of us have experienced violence at some point in our lives that I want to be sure my clients feel absolutely safe and in charge of their experience.
I had a client recently who was startled by the question and told me that she had a massage where she explicitly asked the massage therapist not to touch her butt. He answered that he had to, and that he couldn’t treat her back pain otherwise. Then he chided her for her reluctance and went right ahead and treated her gluteus muscles anyway.
Are there legitimate reasons for a massage therapist to touch your butt? Yes, absolutely, and I would normally address the gluteal muscles thoroughly as part of a standard full-body massage.
BUT NOT IF THE CLIENT DOESN’T WANT ME TO.
Any massage therapist who does not respectfully observe your boundaries and wishes – any massage therapist who keeps going, doesn’t listen or argues with you if you say you’re in pain – is NOT a good massage therapist. The massage studio is a safe space and nothing should happen to you that you don’t want to have happen.
Sometimes massage can be uncomfortable. Some clients tolerate fairly high levels of discomfort in order to get the change they want to achieve in their tissues. BUT pain is not inevitable, pain is not evidence of a “good” or “really strong” massage therapist. I am capable of pushing you through the table, but pain for pain’s sake serves no purpose, it’s just work for me and distress for you.
The other day I had a chair massage client who wanted a lot of work on her shoulders and neck. I spent the first few minutes loosening up the most superficial layer of muscle, the trapezius, and when it relaxed I sank through it to work on the splenius capitis, a deeper layer, and then the levator scapula which lies even deeper. As I’m doing this she says “I’m so glad you don’t do deep tissue massage, I can’t take pain!” And I stopped with my fingers in her levator scap and said “I’m doing deep tissue massage on you right now. Deep tissue just means addressing the muscle layers that aren’t superficial, that are deeper.” “Oh! I thought deep tissue hurt!”
NOPE. Any massage that causes enough pain to be distressing to you is not good massage. Sure, many people, including myself, enjoy that intense, “hurts so good” “sweet discomfort” feeling. But if it hurts bad, or feels violating to you in any way, your therapist needs to know and acknowledge that and change their approach. That is good massage. No massage therapist worth their salt will overrule you or encroach on boundaries you have set. A good massage therapist always, always builds a foundation of safety and respect and consent.