Creating a Comfortable Massage Environment

By Anne Williams
[Classroom to Client]

To create your ideal treatment environment, consider the techniques you will use and the types of clients you desire. For example, in relaxation-oriented businesses, images of the outdoors are often used to help clients feel connected to the earth and nature. And clinical massage businesses benefit from medical charts and images that allow clients to see and understand the structures involved in their soft-tissue condition.
Consider the following elements when creating your treatment room’s environment.

Tip #1: Lighting
Dimmer switches are ideal for treatment rooms. Lights can be made bright for cleaning or sanitizing equipment, adjusted to a medium setting for the health intake consultation, and turned down for the massage. Several pools of soft, diffused light or diffuse natural light are more relaxing than one bright light in a corner or a room that’s too dark. Avoid candles because open flames are a safety hazard and they can pollute the air, especially when used in small rooms.

Tip #2: Wall Decorations
Wall decorations can promote the image of the business, make a soothing impression on the client, and dampen sound. Wall decorations can be functional as well as beautiful. For example, fabric wall hangings lessen noise, while a stylish mirror gives the client a place to freshen up at the end of the session and allows the therapist to check his body mechanics during the session.

Tip #3: Window Treatments
Window treatments are an important design feature in any room and provide privacy, light control, and style. In a massage environment, privacy is important. Window treatments should not be so sheer that people outside can see the massage session. Window treatments also control the amount of light that filters into the room. When the massage starts, softer, dimmer light is more relaxing. You can choose between semi-sheer fabrics that diffuse the light and rich opaque fabrics that shut it out completely.
Windows are often the main focal point in the treatment room. Interesting and well-planned window treatments add style and eye-catching appeal. They also absorb sounds from outside and from the room itself, helping create a quieter overall environment while conserving energy by insulating the glass.

Tip #4: Extra Touches
Decorative items on shelves, side tables, and windowsills help create interest and define the room’s—and therapist’s—style. A relaxation business using an all-natural theme might display shells, nonblooming plants (to avoid allergies), or unique stones. An orthopedic business might feature anatomical models of the body. Rattan baskets, bamboo, and Japanese river stones might adorn an Eastern bodywork business. Items can be functional as well as decorative. For example, one ayurvedic bodywork therapist has different types of Bhutanese, Indian, and Nepalese bells and chimes on display. They are beautiful to look at, but also sound lovely when she rings one to signal the beginning and end of the session.

Tip #5: Sound and Music
The auditory environment is important because it sets the tone for the session and helps to mask outside noise. Consider the flooring: a tile or wood floor may cause echoes that are annoying or distracting.
The wrong sort of music may be irritating to the client, while the right music can evoke strong feelings and beneficial physiological changes in the client. Research shows that music decreases anxiety, heart rate, and systolic blood pressure, even when the person is actively stressed.1 In a single session of music therapy delivered to hospice patients with chronic pain conditions, music decreased the participants’ overall levels of pain and increased their physical comfort.2 Research also shows that the positive physiological benefits of music are increased when clients can choose their own music.3 It is a good idea to have a variety of musical styles available and to ask clients about their musical preferences during the consultation. Clients can also be encouraged to bring their own appropriate music for the session.

Tip #6: Refreshments
A small snack following a session provides an opportunity for the client to wake up and come back to “real life” before venturing back out into the busy world. It doesn’t have to be elaborate—it can be as simple as a cup of green tea after the massage or a complementary chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Similarly, a sports massage therapist may serve a sports drink at the postevent massage. In the summer, clients may leave their treatment with a colorful popsicle to remind them that massage is fun. Fresh, filtered water should be provided before, during, and after the session. Food and drink should be simple, manageable, and individually packaged for safety, but focus on the intention of the offering: to welcome, to nourish on a spiritual level, and to show appreciation, care, and thoughtfulness.

Tip #7: Comfort and Warmth
Once on the massage table, the client should be enveloped in warm, soft textures and have bolsters in place to support the joints in a relaxed position. Blankets, hot water bottles, heat lamps, and warm packs help keep clients comfortable throughout the session. Lotion warmers heat massage oil or lotion so that it does not feel cold when applied. Never use a microwave oven to heat oil or lotion, because microwaves may affect the product’s therapeutic properties. Many products break down when heated, so it is recommended to use 1-ounce bottles with flip or pump lids. These small bottles are filled with fresh oil or lotion at the beginning of each day so that the larger container is not repeatedly exposed to heat and can remain in the refrigerator.
Some massage therapists have chronically cold hands that can feel shocking to the client at the beginning of the session. Warm your hands as much as possible by holding them under warm water, holding a warm pack, or rubbing them briskly before the session.

Tip #8: Entrance and Reception
When choosing a business location, consider its accessibility. Are doorways, hallways, and restroom entrances wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair? Is there enough space around furniture to accommodate someone in a cast and on crutches? Does a long flight of stairs make the business prohibitive for the elderly or clients with disabilities? Is parking convenient and user-friendly, or will clients have to spend the first 10 minutes of the session looking for a space and end up feeling stressed?
The reception area must be friendly, neat, and functional. Magazines, a retail area, tea or water, comfortable chairs, and attractive furnishings help ensure clients’ comfort.

Tip #9: The Dressing Area
Carefully plan the space where clients remove their clothing before the session and get dressed afterward. A screened-off area provides a sense of privacy and decreases the client’s anxiety that the therapist might walk into the room unexpectedly. Place a chair and hooks behind the screen where clients can hang their clothing. A small container for personal items like keys and jewelry helps ensure clients do not misplace or forget them. A box of tissue, disposable wet wipes, and mirror are useful as well.

1. W. E. Knight and N. S. Rickard, “Relaxing Music Prevents Stress-Induced Increases in Subjective Anxiety, Systolic Blood Pressure and Heart Rate in Healthy Males and Females,” Journal of Music Therapy 38, no. 4 (2001): 254–72.  
2.    R. E. Krout, “The Effects of Single-Session Music Therapy Interventions on the Observed and Self-Reported Levels of Pain Control, Physical Comfort, and Relaxation of Hospice Patients,” American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care 18, no. 6 (November-December 2001): 383–90.
3.    B. Thorgaard et al., “Specially Selected Music in the Cardiac Laboratory—An Important Tool for Improvement of the Well-Being of Patients,” European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing 3, no. 1 (April 2004): 21–6.

Anne Williams is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012), from which this article was adapted, and Spa Bodywork: A Guide for Massage Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006). She can be reached at