As long as possible is the answer that many massage recipients would give. Generally speaking, the only factors that limit how long a massage can go are the endurance of the therapist and how long the client can stand to be on the table. While the optimal duration for a session will vary from person to person, there are a few guidelines to help you determine the best length of session to meet your needs.
Before we explore the factors that influence the duration of your massage, we should note the timeframes that are most commonly available. Generally, massage may be purchased in increments of 30 minutes: 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes; with the most common durations being 60 or 90 minutes. Many massage therapists, clinics or other locations operate on what is known as a “spa hour.” A “spa hour” takes into account transition time to get a client onto the table and back off at the end of the session. In such instances, a 60 minute session would consist of 5 minutes to conduct a preliminary interview and get onto the table; 50 minutes of hands-on time and 5 minutes to conduct an exit interview and escort the client from the treatment room.
The first thing to consider when booking a massage is whether you want a full body massage or only part of the body. Most massage therapists are trained in school to deliver a full body, relaxation massage (including the face, head, neck, arms, chest, back, glutes, and legs) in 50 minutes. So, that timeframe can generally be used as a baseline.
Next, you’ll need to consider what you want to accomplish. For most people, their purpose falls into one of two broad categories: specific pain relief or general relaxation. If relaxation is your goal, then a 50 or 60 minute massage is generally appropriate. You can certainly do a longer session of 80 or 90 minutes if you like, but anything much longer than that may tend to feel a bit repetitive or may leave you groggy afterward.
Specific work is generally more time-consuming. Thus, if you would like relaxation with some specific neck work, the 50 minute timeframe should afford opportunity for both, but you may not be able to receive massage for a full body. A common compromise might be 50 minutes with specific work in the neck, but reduced time in the legs or glutes. In the context of a 50 minute massage, for each area of specific work that you want to add, you can generally assume you will deduct time from another body area. If it is important to you that you receive a full body massage and specific work in one or two areas, then you will want to consider an 80 or 90 minute massage.
Working along the guidelines established above shorter and longer sessions also have their advantages/disadvantages. The 30 minute timeframe is best for specific work into 2 or 3 areas, or for a relaxation massage through only half the body (either upper/lower or front/back). The 120 minute timeframe is most appropriate if you have multiple (more than 4 or 5) areas requiring specific work or if you have 3 or 4 areas that require specific work and you still want a full body relaxation massage in addition to the specific work.