20 Red Flags to a BAD Massage Therapist

Well, I thought after the 2020-shut-down-year, it couldn’t get any worse, but I’m afraid it has. Yes, I am referring to the two male massage therapists here in Bowling Green that have recently admitted to sexually assaulting their female massage clients. Our hearts go out to those women and their families who now have to face the aftermath.

I don’t think we should hide our heads in the sand. I believe that it is time to evaluate the problem, learn whatever we can from it, and take some action to help our community feel safe again. 

I recently wrote Is Your Massage Therapist Legal? This blog post discusses how Bowling Green has had several massage parlor busts in recent days, but what do we do with men who are legitimate, legal, licensed massage therapists that commit sex crimes? Are these men psychopaths with no feelings? Were they abused as children? Does it matter? Yes, it does matter how we are training-up and socializing male children, but we aren’t qualified to solve this. From a massage therapist’s perspective, I can only tell you what we are doing to provide safe massage within our facility. I believe it is an excellent standard or evaluation tool for anywhere you choose to go.

One of the reasons MassageFIX® uses the tag-line “Serious. Massage. Therapy.” is to differentiate ourselves from any fruffy, unprofessional, or unorganized massage business. Our massage therapists are employees (not Independent Contractors) who are held to the highest licensure standards, insurance, advanced in-house training, continuing education, cleanliness, and proper HIPPA compliant documentation. MassageFIX® has an onsite supervisory massage therapist with over 20 years of experience that double-checks intakes and soap notes. Along with our full-time General Manager, she is there to deal with any issues that may come up with clients or employees. MassageFIX® has an environment with checks-and-balances. It would be incredibly difficult for a predator to hide on either side of one of our massage tables. 

All of these things are significant indicators that you are walking into a more professional business. MassageFIX® even posts its therapists licenses in the lobby, which isn’t required; but what about when you get behind closed doors, alone with the therapist? What says, “I’m safe,” and what is a red flag that you are not safe?

Primary Red Flags

  1. Office windows are obscured so that no one can see into the lobby. This intentional act is typical of illegal sex shops, known to traffic women and children. You could be physically injured from their lack of knowledge/training, or you could be mistaken for someone looking for sex and find yourself in a dangerous situation when you back out of the sex act they thought you wanted.
  2. You can see cameras, phones, ipads, open computers, or mirrors in the treatment room. You have the right to ask the therapist to remove them from the room altogether if you feel uncomfortable.
  3. No one asked you to fill out the legally required intake paperwork, or if they did, they did not go over it with you. Sex workers and perverts don’t keep records, and bad therapists only care about getting done and getting paid. 
  4. The therapist makes off-color jokes or hints at sexual things.
  5. The therapist asks you questions about your intimate relationships or tells you about theirs. 
  6. The therapist comments on your attractiveness when it is not in the context of massage. Example: “You have a gorgeous body.” Example of an appropriate statement: “You have great muscle tone in your legs except for this tight calf muscle.”
  7. The therapist wants to initiate non-professional contact with you outside of their office (text, phone calls, social media) that are not related to your therapeutic treatment.
  8. The therapist tries to become friends with you by offering to loan you things or gives you gifts.
  9. The therapist will not let you get your massage in quiet and constantly talks to you about themselves. This is not professional and suggests social immaturity that could potentially lead to inappropriateness. 
  10. You do not feel comfortable with how you are being draped, or the therapist gets too close to your breasts or genitals.

Secondary Red Flags

  1. Your therapist typically arrives to work after you. This speaks to a lack of professionalism that surely will translate to your massage.
  2. The therapist has no idea what they worked on for you the last time you were in for a massage. This tells you that they probably did not write the soap notes that they are required to write, and they don’t care if they waste your time and money having to start all over again with the same issue.
  3. You see dirty or oily bottles of lotion. Ask the therapists to show you the container of oil or lotion that they will be using. Heaven forbid they would dip their hands in a container of some sort. That is not hygienic and tells you right away they don’t care about your physical safety and have no cleanliness standards at all. 
  4. The therapist doesn’t knock before they come back into the room to do your massage. This is just unnecessary carelessness.
  5. The therapist has rings on their fingers, and their nails are long, jagged or dirty. Cross-contamination is a real health hazard.
  6. One or both of the therapists’ hands are not in contact with you for an extended period of time.
  7. They have sleeves below their elbows that have collected the DNA of all the other clients before you.
  8. You see food or drink containers in the treatment room. 
  9. Some therapists are trained to work while “grounded.” This means that they do their massage work without shoes. Bare-feet is a widespread practice. However, if you smell foot odor or see dirty feet/socks, this is an indicator of low standards. 
  10. The therapist does not take the time to tell you how the treatment will go or the body parts to be touched.

Now to the issue of GLUTE WORK. Should a massage therapist touch a client’s Glutes or buttocks? The answer is yes and no. I’m not too fond of gray areas, and this is one of them. So let’s sort it out. 

The Gluteus muscle is actually three muscle, the Glute Maximus, Medius, and Minimus. It is the largest, most powerful muscle in the body. It keeps the bottom half of us upright and the top half of us from falling over. Imagine being the chief coordinator (along with the brain) of over 600 body muscles to take a human up a flight of stairs. To say that the Glute is the hardest working muscle in our body is an understatement. That’s only half of the story. Just underneath the Glute muscles are the Lateral Rotators. Without these six little muscles, you would walk in a straight line like C3PO, and sports would be impossible. They allow your legs to rotate in and out. 

Massage therapists in schools all across our country are taught how to work these muscles from top to bottom in the treatment of Sciatica, pulled hamstrings/quads, low backaches, pregnancy, etc. Big muscles have big problems very often. You want your massage therapist to have this knowledge and be prepared to help you if needed. However, that does not mean that you have to have a massage on your glutes if you don’t want it. 

Every state is different in its massage law and massage training. My school in New York insisted that its students learn hands-on glute work for every common injury to that area. It was unthinkable not to work the glutes in every massage. One school in Tennessee makes their students wear bathing suits on the table, and the therapist works over a towel and never goes skin to skin. There is no national standard for what is “normal.” The only standard is your standard. If you don’t want hand-to-skin glute work, then leave on your underwear during the massage. A therapist should never move your underwear or go underneath the edges.

The “Should I leave my underwear on?” question is asked of me almost every week for the last 21 years. Even when it’s not asked, I still have the conversation. Clients want to be comfortable, but they also want to do what is expected of them. So, here is the best answer to that question.

“Most people take their underwear off when they get a massage. Some people don’t feel comfortable doing that. It’s up to you. Either way is fine with me. If you leave your underwear on, I won’t go under it, and I will not move it. I will, however, get oil on them – so wear ones you don’t like. If you ask me to work on your low back, hamstrings, or quads, I won’t be able to do that if cloth is in my way. Scooting the waistband down or pulling up the legs (men’s) will NOT help due to the nature of the technical strokes that have to be used. When doing glute work I always drape appropriately, and your gluteal crease is never exposed. You can stop me at any time and tell me that you are uncomfortable, and I will stop working in that area with absolutely no problem at all.”

I can always refer you out to a Chiropractor or Physical Therapist if you need work on these areas, and I can’t do what is required to accomplish the task. It’s always about your comfort, safety, and success.

Please contact a counselor or police officer for advice immediately if you feel that a massage therapist has victimized you in any way. Predators count on their victims’ silence.