Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Swedish Massage...

Throughout my never-ending quest to discover effective pain relief for an arthritic neck, I’ve tried many different remedies. The acupuncture needles didn’t work, nor did the NHS-supplied physiotherapy (quite the opposite in fact). Heated bags gave temporary relief but it just isn’t practical to walk around tescos wearing a Hot-Pac. And yes, I did consider it! Warm baths are also fine for short-term relief but you simply can’t stay in there all day long. Herbal tablets seem to have had little, if any, impact after 6 months and I was keen to cut back on my daily Ibuprophen intake, so when a friend suggested massage just might help I was definitely up for it.

After thoroughly researching the various prices for the mind-boggling selection of different types of massages available, I resented at the thought of forking out £40 just for a consultation, and that was without any hands on whatsoever, so when I spotted a coupon in my local paper for a half price, one hour, Swedish, full body massage at a local beauty salon I jumped at the chance. At a very reasonable £20 it seemed like a jolly good idea, and I was relieved to discover, on booking the appointment, that I’d be seeing a female masseur.

I had no idea what a Swedish massage involved, and chose to ignore all the ooer missus comments I got from various quarters. I went there with an open mind (within reason) and figured that even if the treatment didn’t actually help with my pain, at least I was going to be pampered for an hour.

Arriving unfashionably early gave me ample time to fill out a medical disclosure form. No, I haven’t had botox, I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding and I haven’t got a pacemaker, I have no metal pins anywhere inside my body and I’m not harbouring any infectious diseases. Bureaucracy completed, I was led through a remarkably narrow corridor by my masseur, up a narrow flight of stairs, and around what appeared to be a labyrinth until we reached room 5. To instantly dispel one myth, my masseur, Jane, was neither blonde nor Swedish. The spatially challenged room was warm and clean, not too clinical but not resembling anyone’s lounge either, with a treatment table in the centre and candles for ambience. Relaxation music was being piped around the room and the tiny coloured ceiling lights were on a dimmer switch, presumably so that the masseur doesn’t have to endure the retina destroying sights of terminal cellulite and acres of sagging, wrinkled flesh.

Jane asked me to remove my clothing, apart from my drawers, and lie face down on the table. I breathed a sigh of relief that I remembered to put on my expensive, special occasion Marks and Spencer’s pants this morning, rather than my 5 pairs for £2.50 tescos bargain bucket undies. She left the room for five minutes to allow me some privacy, which is just as well because nobody needs to see a practically naked, fat, middle aged woman struggling to haul herself onto a high plinth. I’d been asked to protect my modesty with the thick blanket provided, but I’d also been told to lie on my tummy. Now, I’d never realised quite what a challenge it is to pull a heavy blanket over yourself while face down on a table. Luckily, by the time Jane returned I’d more or less covered myself up.

In my vulnerable state of undress I wondered what would happen should the fire alarm sound. On the back of the door I spied a large, fluffy, white terry towelling bath robe, and made a mental note that if any loud bells happened to ring out during my session I’d make a grab for it before evacuating the building. With health and safety matters dealt with I finally began to relax.

It would’ve been less of a surprise if the oils that were poured onto my back had been a tad warmer, but the massage was pleasant enough, in a slippery and slidey sort of way. After several minutes the soothing pan pipes were beginning to irritate somewhat, but thankfully the next track on the CD was a mixture of birdsong and piano, which was far more bearable. The babbling brook track was probably not the best idea as it seemed to create the urge to pee. A lavender pack was placed over my eyes, which not only smelt nice but was strangely comforting and not at all claustrophobic.

Jane was careful to ensure that the thick blanket covered up every inch of me which wasn’t currently being massaged, thus keeping me lovely and toasty warm. I though it odd when she asked if I wanted my stomach massaged, as I’d assumed it was a part of the ‘full body treatment’ which I’d booked. However, she explained that several people are simply far too ticklish and don’t like it at all. I’m not remotely ticklish so I agreed to have my flabby tummy kneaded, bread-making style.

I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but it gradually occurred to me there were very few parts left that hadn’t been oiled, so to speak, other than my chest area. Now, I was less than keen for a young girl to be handling my boobs, let alone rubbing oil over them, so I began to agonize over how to politely ask her to keep her hands off my top half. However, I needn’t have worried. Jane had already placed a cloth over my lady-lumps while she massaged my belly, and simply worked around my upper body parts. She greased my arms, right down to the finger tips and up to the shoulders, then subtly moved around to my neck and throat area. I even had my ears massaged, which was a particularly strange, although not unpleasant, sensation, resulting in minimum embarrassment for both of us. I must admit that the grand finale, a scalp massage, was probably my favourite bit as it made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

Treatment over, my hour was up, and Jane suggested I might like to lay there a while and chill out before putting my clothes back on. That was very welcome, no rushing about for a change. She then left me to my own devices, and to be honest I would have loved a little nap, but I didn’t want to push the hospitality too far, so I breathed in deeply and struggled to haul my slippery carcass off the table. This was a lot harder to do than it sounds, as I’m not used to lying down flat on a firm surface for any length of time, and all that muscle relaxing had rendered me jelly-like.

Good job I’d chosen to wear loose fitting clothes that day because all that oil was making it a little bit of a struggle to put things back on. Fully dressed I conquered the incredible maze and managed to eventually locate the reception area, where Jane was patiently waiting for me. I’d predicted that there’d be some sort of sales pitch and wasn’t at all surprised when she suggested I might benefit from some heat patches for my neck. Willing to give anything a go I parted with an extra fiver, which wasn’t too financially painful.

Whether the massage genuinely helped my neck or not is doubtful, as it felt no different to the way it was when I arrived at the salon, but it was a lovely treat on an especially cold, wet February afternoon. The surroundings were pleasant, the masseur was friendly, and my skin was now all silky soft. If I was able to have the treatment on the NHS I would probably jump at the opportunity, however, I suspect that the environment would be less agreeable and the regulation NHS masseur may not be quite as delicate as those found in beauty salons. I may well return at a later date for a cheaper thirty minute neck and back massage, instead of the full body version. We shall see………

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