Winterize Your Massage Sessions

Easy Add-Ons to Support Your Clients' Needs

By Cindy Williams
[Classroom to Client]

Just as the seasons change, so do we. During wintertime, when it’s chilly, windy, dry, and dark outside, our bodies are taxed and need to work harder in many ways to maintain homeostasis.
Skin becomes dry due to less humidity in the air. The circulatory system must efficiently keep core temperature within healthy range, and in an effort to adapt, blood vessels in the extremities constrict. This physiological adaptation results in cold hands and feet. Lower temperatures and constricted circulation can cause joints to become stiff since the tissues are colder and less pliable. While there is still controversy around this theory, many believe that changes in barometric pressure, which are often caused by cold fronts, can cause swelling and pain in the joints, especially if they’ve been previously injured. Shorter days bring less sunshine and less exposure to vitamin D, a vitamin known for its many positive effects, including immune and cardiovascular support, and mood and energy regulation. Finally, as we all know from experience, colder temperatures can bring rampant flu viruses and general suppression of the immune system.
Dry skin, cold extremities, lack of energy, stiff and painful joints, and inadequate sunshine leave people feeling less than warm and fuzzy. Preparing for these challenges with one or more supportive add-ons can help boost your clients’ physiological systems, warm their bodies, and lift their spirits!

Dry Brushing
Dry brushing is at the top of the list of perfect winter add-ons because of its many reported benefits and the ease with which you can incorporate it into a massage session.
Potential Benefits
• Increases circulation
• Stimulates the lymphatic system
• Exfoliates dry, dead skin cells
• Invigorates the senses
By applying light, brisk strokes toward the lymph nodes and heart with a natural, soft bristle brush, movement of surface lymphatic fluids and blood are supported. Simply purchase a couple of brushes designed for dry brushing, either online or at a department store in their health and beauty section. Make sure the bristles are made of natural fibers and are not too stiff or rough. Dry brushing should feel pleasurable!
After undraping a body area, such as the arm or leg, and prior to applying lubricant, use one brush in short, light, quick strokes from distal to proximal and toward the local lymph nodes. You can also use two brushes, one in each hand, with a brush-over-brush stroke (comparable to a hand-over-hand massage stroke). Do this on each body part as you progress through the massage. It’s also great for preparing the tissue for your hands-on work. Clients have reported feeling invigorated, less tense, and calmer after dry brushing alone.
The key is to not over-brush. Fifteen to 30 seconds per body part is plenty to get things moving and to brush off those dead skin cells.

Hot Foot Soak
The great thing about a hot foot soak is that, regardless of the accuracy of potential benefits, it just feels delightful, especially when feet are cold!
Potential Benefits
• Warms the feet and joints
• Increases blood flow in the feet
• Reduces overall stress and tension by promoting a sense of groundedness
• Reduces joint swelling when salts are added
Use a water basin that is wide and long enough to fit two adult feet (the bigger, the better, as long as you can maneuver the water-filled basin without harming yourself). It’s helpful if it’s deep enough to submerge the ankle joints. Lay a large towel on the floor in front of a chair, put the basin on top of the towel, and fill the basin with gallon jugs of hot water. You can either fill in a nearby restroom and carry to the treatment room, or carry the water in jugs and fill the basin in the treatment room. Adjust the water temperature to the client’s comfort level, making sure to test it yourself first. Add Epsom salts for swelling and/or joint pain. Essential oils can also be used as long as the client is not sensitive to the oil being used. Lavender is a gentle, safe, effective go-to. Oils that blend well with lavender, such as black pepper, sandalwood, frankincense, or most citrus oils, are great additions. Citrus oils are very uplifting to the spirit during darker winter months. It’s fun to let clients select their own scent as well.
Hot foot soaks are perfect session starters, and clients can soak their feet and warm up while they  fill out initial paperwork at a first-time session, or during general update intake at the start of subsequent sessions. Clients will need a plush towel to dry off their feet before they move to the massage table.

Simple Steam Treatment
Potential Benefits
• Warms and hydrates the skin and extremities
• Increases circulation
• Reduces overall stress and muscle tension
• Uplifts the spirit when essential oils are added
You will need one or more hot, steamy hand towels. In order to make a towel hot and steamy, you need to wet it, wring it out so it’s not dripping on the client, warm it, and keep it warm until use. There are a variety of good heating elements available. For example, after wetting and wringing the hand towels, you can roll them up and put them in a crock pot set on a low/warm setting, microwave them and put them in a cooler, or make the investment in a hot towel cabby.
If you and your client wish, you can also add essential oils to the towels before rolling them up. Just be sure your clients aren’t sensitive to the oils you are using, and that the oils are safe on the skin. Consider using oils that are uplifting, such as grapefruit, tangerine, or sweet orange. These scents are excellent when sunshine is minimal.
For most body parts, such as the back, arms, and legs, simply lay the hot, steamy towel directly on the body, wait 30 seconds, then apply compression strokes over the towel for another 30 seconds before removing. Be sure to remove towels before they cool too much, since the goal is to warm the body. Muscles relax quickly with moist heat, but when a damp towel cools, it can ruin your desired effect.
When applying a hot, steamy towel to the face, start with the center of the towel on the forehead, and wrap each side of the towel around each side of the face toward the chin. Be sure to leave a gap for the nose, and possibly even the mouth if the client experiences any discomfort, such as claustrophobia, when having the face covered. When using on hands and feet, wrap each one individually and completely with a towel, and give several good squeezes to the whole hand or foot before removing the towel.

Seasonal Add-Ons Make a Difference
Including seasonal add-ons that support the body’s natural systems is an excellent way to distinguish yourself from other therapists. Even incorporating a warm rice bag into a session or offering a cup of hot tea upon a client’s arrival will add that special touch that feels good and has them longing for the next session. A small amount of time, minimal money for supplies, and a little bit of effort make a big difference in supporting your clients’ health and gaining repeat visits. It’s easy to help them erase those winter blues!

Since 2000, Cindy Williams, LMT, has been actively involved in the massage profession as a practitioner, school administrator, instructor, curriculum developer, and mentor. She maintains a private practice as a massage and yoga instructor. Contact her at