A full-body massage indicates that the therapist will massage your whole body during a therapeutic massage lasting at least 50 minutes. That's the amount of time needed to massage all the major areas of your body -- back, shoulders, legs, feet, arms, hands and neck, (and for men, pectoral muscles in the chest.
You generally start face down and the therapist starts with your back and shoulder, then moves down the body.
Once you flip over, the therapist works her way back up your body, usually ending with neck and shoulders and sometimes the scalp.
Whether you're getting a Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, hot stone massage or lomi-lomi, most massages at spas will be full-body massages. If you have problem area that needs extra attention, such as a sore back or tight shoulders, you can request that the therapist spend more time on those problem areas. They can accommodate that request by spending less time on areas like the legs or arms, which might just get a quick sweep.
If you have problem areas but don't want other areas to be shortchanged, make an appointment for a longer massage session, such as 75 or even 90 minutes. That way you can get a full body massage along with the more focused work you need in specific areas.
When You Won't Get a Full-Body Massage
If you book an express service or mini-treatment (a session of just 30 minutes instead of the usual 50 or 60 minutes) it's recommended to have the massage therapist focus on a few areas instead of getting a full-body massage.
That's because it takes a some time to warm up and soften the muscle tissue so that the therapist can go in a little deeper and get the muscle to actually release.
Most of us have chronic tension in our back, neck and shoulders, so that's a good place to to start. If you ask for a full-body massage in a half hour, you won't see as much benefit from the massage.
Sports massage usually concentrates on targeted body areas that might be in spasm or tight from activities related to sports. So that is another circumstance in which you might not receive a full body massage.
Misunderstandings About Full-Body Massage
Massage therapists understand full-body massage to be a massage that covers the whole body rather than a targeted area that needs special attention, such as tight muscles. It was a legitimate way to refer to massage when it was first developed in the 19th century.
The full-body massage given on a padded table with the client under a drape was unheard of prior to the 1880s, according to Patricia J Benjamin, PhD, LMT, who has been studying and writing about the history of massage therapy. She says that full-body massage had its origin in the famous Rest Cure for "neurasthenia", a debilitating melancholy common among society ladies in the late 19th century. During the bed rest period, full-body massage was given for circulation and to increase the patient’s appetite, a kind of substitute for exercise.
The Rest Cure eventually fell out of favor, but the popularity of general massage greatly increased by the early 1900s and was considered part of good health.
By the 1960s, however, old-fashioned terms like massage parlors, masseuse and full-body massage had fallen into disrepute, acting as code words for prostitution. For that reason the terms massage therapy, massage therapist and Swedish massage began to replace the older ways of referring to massage and the therapists who practice it.
However, there are still many bogus "spas" that still operate like the old massage parlors. They put out signs that say "full-body massage" or "Asian massage" or "full-body Asian massage" as a way of indicate there will be sexual contact or "happy ending," which is illegal. You should not expect a happy ending if you ask for a full-body massage at a legitimate spa.