Do you know what you’re getting when you opt for the “cheap” massage?
It seems it’s hard enough to make time for ourselves—“self-care” can feel all too often like a luxury of time and money. We may be struggling to give ourselves permission to be first for a moment. It makes sense that when we do decide to replenish our dwindling reserves that we would want to be sure it fits within budget.
We’ve all seen those $25 massage specials advertised. Compare that to the $85 massage place, and it can seem that there’s really no comparison at all, right? Why pay more for the same service? Isn’t being a good steward of money important, and don’t we deserve the best value?
The answer to both those questions is yes. It is important to use money wisely, and you do deserve the best value you can find. But do you know what you’re getting when you patronize places that sell massage for $25 an hour? The answer concerns both you and the person providing your service.
In most cases, your massage therapist does not get to keep the money they charge for the service provided. Most spas keep at least 50% of the cost of your service, many pay out a flat fee to their therapists, or simply pay minimum wage. Some businesses partner with discount sites and pass on the reduced fee to their massage therapists, which means they earn even less on the massage than usual! Add on to that the fact that oftentimes, massage therapists work within complementary health care clinics where tipping is atypical or even not allowed, and the take-home pay for that session can be alarmingly low.
Massage is such a unique combination of skills—it requires physical stamina, specialized education, and a personal quality that allows clients to relax in your presence. Most professional massage therapists are physically unable and ill-advised to perform more than 25 hours of hands-on time per week. Massage therapists can fall victim to the same conditions for which their clients seek massage. Repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain, sprains/strains are all common enough injuries massage therapists endure when they tax the reasonable limits of the body.
It may seem that massage is no big deal—you may trade shoulder rubs with your partner on movie night. No one’s gotten hurt yet, right? It’s not like getting a massage could actually hurt anyone! Wrong-o! Massage professionals know the best techniques in their tool kit to help you most effectively. They know what to watch out for, and can suggest you see your medical doctor if they notice anything amiss. A colleague once ended a massage much to her client’s annoyance due to symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis she noted. In this instance, the therapist recommended a trip to the ER where DVT was diagnosed. Had she proceeded with the massage, her client would have been put at risk of complications, even damage to the heart. Obviously, massage is not always appropriate—during infections, immediately following an injury, or if the client is taking certain medications. Massage therapists are not only educated in anatomy, pathology, and massage techniques– they have your best interests at heart and in mind.
Massage therapists also need to possess a certain something. They need to be both confident in their treatment plan and receptive to your personal preferences and needs. They need to be able to communicate effectively, and know when to stop talking so that you can relax. Massage therapists need to have clear professional boundaries so that you can fully let go into their care, knowing that you will be treated with the utmost of respect. Not everyone is capable of touching the human body with the respect it requires at all times. Massage professionals hold themselves to high ethical standards for good reason.
In the community where I live, an enormous human trafficking syndicate was recently exposed. Those who traded in human life will hopefully be brought to justice and those who were enslaved (some of them minors) will hopefully receive the care and support they need to recover from their kidnapping and torture. Human trafficking is alive and well in many of our communities, occurring right under our noses. And guess what? Some of those victims are forced to work in disreputable “massage parlors” where the real money is not in providing therapeutic massage. It’s important to distinguish between choosing sex work as a living freely and being forced into it against one’s will or before one is even old enough to make the choice. I can’t tell you how upsetting it is to massage therapists to think that the service they provide to improve the communities in which they live can serve as a front for human trafficking.
When you opt for the cheap massage, the person providing you with this meaningful service is likely earning pocket change or worse yet, nothing at all. An establishment that can afford to offer the cheap massage may not be taking care of its massage therapists financially or even be providing an adequate working environment. One law enforcement official who spearheaded massage parlor investigations shared that unsurprisingly, many of these places fail to pass health inspection or to have the necessary permits and licensing. Worst case scenario, your massage therapist is someone working under duress, in fear for their life.
How do you know who you are patronizing when you purchase a massage? Buyer, be aware!
There are lots of qualified massage therapists who want to provide you with the therapeutic relaxation you need. Massage shouldn’t be a once a year luxury. Everyone needs healthy touch and deserves the stress-management and symptom-relief massage offers. When you patronize a locally-owned spa or a small-business owner, you are investing in your community. When you pay a fair price for your massage, you are ensuring that the professional working with you is making a fair wage—it will pay for their kid’s trumpet lessons or allow them to take that massage training they’ve been saving up for. When we bargain basement shop for therapeutic massage, we may actually put ourselves or others at risk of exploitation.
All this is not to say that every cheap massage office is harboring nefarious criminals within or is guilty of human trafficking. The best way to be sure of what you’re getting is to ask questions and listen to your gut. It’s totally legitimate to ask to see documentation of licensure, insurance, and business permits. It’s also totally legitimate to turn around and walk away if something just doesn’t feel right to you. You have the right to stop your massage at any time for any reason.
Paying fair market value for massage is important. It truly is an investment in your health, and you want the best, most qualified, educated, and experienced person providing for your care. Many of us have other degrees that complement our massage training. One colleague completed osteopathy medical school, another completed a master’s degree is Eastern medicine, and I myself recently completed a master’s degree in somatic psychology. Massage therapy meaningfully impacts the body and can improve your health in measurable ways. Wouldn’t you want to be sure the person performing your massage is passionate about holistic healthcare, to be well-educated, and to be there because they want to help you? I sure do!
I’m proud of this profession and I believe you deserve the best.
Thanks for visiting East Bay Massage!