How Long Should Your Massage Be?
How long of a massage session should you be getting? Is there an ideal time for you, for most people, etc.? Have you ever gotten off of the massage table and wished you could have just a few more minutes (or hours)? Then maybe you could use a longer session next time, but then again, using that reasoning you might never get off of the table!

As a general statement, here are some time ranges that I feel are pretty standard with the following types of massage.

1) Medically necessary massage because of an acute, diagnosed condition – 30 to 90 minutes
2) Rehabilitative and body maintenance massage – 60 to 90 minutes
3) Wellness and relaxation massage as part of your lifestyle – 60 to 120 minutes
4) An occasional decadent relaxation experience – 120 to 180 minutes

I lean heavily towards longer sessions if they fit your body, temperament and pocket book. Not only are they a better experience for my clients but they are far more enjoyable and satisfying for me as a practitioner. I can get so much more bodywork done and my clients are able to relax on a level that they very seldom, if ever, get to. This is one of the reasons I keep my rates so low, so people can afford longer massages. Also, since I do not operate from a retail storefront, my overhead is considerably lower as well.

I personally believe that most people will find their ideal massage session length to be somewhere between 90 minutes and 120 minutes and some even a little bit longer.

I think for many people who are new to massage or who only get a couple of massages a year, 90 minutes is a good place to start for session length. It is enough time for a decent full body massage and allows you to relax more deeply than you will in a short 60 minute session. That being said, your first two hour or even three hour massage is almost like an out of body experience by the end of it. So, challenge yourself or treat yourself to a longer session and see how you feel.

The Retailing of the Massage Industry
There has been a “retailing and packaging” trend in massage over the last few years which has been good in the sense that more people than ever are getting “massage” but it has also sucked much of the artistry and creativeness out of our bodywork.

I believe the majority of people that are getting massages from the retail massage industry are not getting personalized bodywork, but rather, cookie cutter massage routines that are fine in and of themselves, but seriously lacking when compared to a truly personalized and non-rushed massage experience. Which, by the way, does not have to cost considerably more than the retail massage experience. I think if people understood this they could never settle for what they are getting.

I am not saying tl hat there are not great therapists working in the retail massage trade, it is just that they are constrained by the business model and do not usually have the personal freedom to give their clients the massage that they want to. Even worse, they are not usually encouraged or allowed to develop their own personal bodywork style or tailor their work too much to the client’s needs (think McDonalds vs. a custom deli).

Medical, Rehabilitation and Sports Massage
Also, I am not saying that this “retailing” of the massage industry should affect how you look at the specialists in the medical and sports massage communities. The therapists who work in these communities are usually highly specialized and incredibly skilled. They also have a completely different method for determining the length of your massage appointment based on things such as medically prescribed treatments, insurance requirements, clinically based protocols, specific area focus vs. full body focus. If you are receiving medical massage treatment, please rely on your therapist for a more specific recommendation for your massage.

My Personal Experience
Prior to being a massage therapist, I was fortunate enough to have a massage therapist who would often schedule three hour appointments or longer for me (I was a professional athlete and hedge fund manager in the past, so tension and stress were the literal bain of my existence). Even with a three hour appointment she would explain that I should also leave time open at the end of my session just in case my body was not ready to leave….so I got to experience first-hand a drastically different approach to massage and bodywork that has influenced me to this day.

As a massage practitioner, I have worked shorter and longer sessions. The longer sessions are almost always more relaxing, more therapeutic and just generally more awesome than the shorter ones. In fact, I only have a handful of clients who schedule 60 minute appointments. The vast majority of my clients schedule 90 minute to 120 minute appointments and I have several who schedule 2 to 3 hour appointments.

I never would have got my bodywork to the point that it is today if I had chosen to work in the retail massage environment. I never would have been given the room to try completely new styles, make my own lotions and otherwise travel completely off of the reservation in search of the perfect massage for each client. As a result I am 10 times the therapist that I would have been otherwise, my clients are treated to bodywork that they cannot find anywhere else and that makes for a great massage experience for both of us.

One of the biggest factors in this was slowing my work down (a lot!) and allowing more time for the massage and for the time after the massage. I almost never schedule a massage within an hour of another massage ending so we can extend the session or so my client can relax on the table for 30 minutes after their massage and still have time for a nice relaxing shower before they head back out into their world. It also gives me more time to relax and prepare for my next session.

The bottom line for me is that I need more time for my best work. For me, any full body massage that is less than 90 minutes feels like a rush job. I can’t take the time that I like to get my client to relax, so their body will invite me in to do deeper work. I can’t spend extra time in areas that need it because I don’t really have enough time to cover the basic areas in the first place.

If You Only Have One Hour…..
If you only have an hour or you can only afford an hour, than I suggest that you tell your therapist the areas that you really want worked on and the ones that you don’t. Tell them that you just want a 100% relaxation and pampering session or the wrecking ball special…whatever it is you want. Make sure your therapist is working on you and with you…not just performing the 55 minute massage routine being taught in many massage schools and sold in mass quantities these days.

This is just my opinion as a somewhat eccentric, massage practitioner and bodyworker, I definitely do not know everything about everything and I do not believe that I am the best massage therapist in the world or my town. The best analogy that I have found is an artist. Who can say who the best artist is? I surely can’t, but I know when a piece of art moves me. When I have to have that on my wall for some reason. My bodywork is my art and I love it when a client experiences my art and says, “I have to have that.”

A special side note to therapists. I know that there are so many wonderful bodywork artists out there doing the best you can to add your art to the corporate menu of massage offerings. I hope that I am not insulting or offending any of you. However, I do not mind challenging some of the business people who want to make massage an assembly line profit center but have never sat quietly at the end of a massage table gently cradling another human beings occiput while that person’s whole life is spilling out of them and still had the courage to not interfere with that person’s process, but to allow it, embrace it, maybe even join in it…..

Joe Lavin, LMP CPT