Find the right therapist
Just as you would with an MD, select a certified massage therapist who meets your specific needs, whether you’re looking to soothe postmarathon aches or relieve a stiff neck. General certification in Swedish massage—long, sweeping strokes over the entire body—fits the bill when you’re simply looking to relax. (Swedish is what you’ll get if you ask for a basic massage; Shiatsu, or acupressure, features more targeted finger pressure in specific areas.)
Before the massage begins, mention any areas of your body that are feeling sensitive, tight, painful, or tender (like a knot in your neck or an achy spot in your shoulder); these should be treated with particular care, according to Leena Guptha, an osteopathic doctor, a licensed massage therapist, and past president of the American Massage Therapy Association.
Most massage isn’t painful, though moderate pressure—which studies have found is necessary to provide optimal therapeutic benefits—may feel a little uncomfortable, especially if you’re new to massage. Is the pressure too intense? Don’t be shy. Guptha suggests saying something like, “That really hurts. Can you try something different or skip this area?” A good therapist should welcome (or even ask for) your input.
Pick your products
It’s acceptable to bring your own lotion or oil, especially if you have sensitive skin, a sensitive nose, or a condition like eczema or psoriasis. Another option: Ask the therapist to show you her product stash and discuss the options (many are fragrance-free). “There are dozens available for different types of massage, and your therapist should have a variety to choose from,” Guptha says.