Massage therapist etiquette

Written by wendy travolta
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Massage therapist etiquette
(massage image by fderib from

Massage therapy, an ancient, hands-on healing modality, proves most effective when clients feel relaxed and receptive. A massage therapist who maintains strict ethical boundaries and adheres to certain standards of practice inspires confidence and trust in her clients. Besides following an employer's specific protocol, massage therapists use the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork's guidelines regarding professionalism and proper etiquette.


Massage therapists provide treatment in a clean and welcoming environment. For each client, therapists dress massage tables with freshly laundered sheets; after sessions, therapists wash sheets and disinfect the treatment table with a 10 per cent bleach solution. Massage therapists also practice personal hygiene; they keep fingernails trimmed and filed; wear clean, modest, non-restrictive clothing; and avoid wearing strong perfumes, rings or dangling jewellery.

Intake Procedure

Prior to treatment, therapists clarify financial arrangements. Clients submit medical histories, detailing any physical or emotional issues they wish to address during the massage. To uphold client confidentiality, massage therapists retain client medical files in a private, secured location for a minimum of four years before disposing of them.


Treatment cannot begin without a client's informed written or verbal consent. Children 17 years of age or younger must present written consent from a legal guardian. Informed consent implies the client acknowledges his therapist's intended actions and reasons, and gives the therapist permission to apply therapeutic touch to affected areas. Under no circumstances should client or therapist suggest inappropriate sexual misconduct, or encourage a non-professional relationship outside the treatment room.


To preserve professional integrity, a massage therapist administers quality care to the best of her ability. She accurately and honestly presents her skills and experience level, readily deferring to health care professionals or specialists when necessary. If physical or emotional ailments contraindicate massage, or if her client appears influenced by drugs or alcohol, the therapist should refuse treatment and explain her reasons.

Appropriate Therapeutic Touch

Typically, clients receive full-body massages unclothed, under a privacy sheet. (Certain therapies, such as Shiatsu or Thai massage, mandate full dress.) The therapist exposes her client's back, arms, abdomen, buttocks or legs only to massage them. If the client chooses to remain partially or fully dressed, or expresses discomfort at any exposure, his massage therapist must work around stated boundaries. Massage therapists never touch a client's anus or genitalia.


Therapists cannot refuse treatment due to a client's gender, race, age or any other discriminatory factor. Professionals must obey local, state and federal massage laws, and obtain state licensing or national certification where necessary. A massage therapist is morally obligated to report a colleague's observed unprofessional behaviour.

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