Whether new to massage or a seasoned massage client, most people wonder, at one time or another, what length massage session is most beneficial. Of course, that depends on several variables, though 60- and 90-minute massages are two of the most common options.
However, there are situations where shorter massages (those lasting 30 minutes or less) may be the most beneficial—for both the client and the massage therapist.
What Clients Can Benefit From Shorter Massage Sessions?
An early meta-analysis investigating the effects of massage for post-exercise recovery found shorter massage sessions—those ranging from five to 12 minutes—were more beneficial than massage lasting more than 12 minutes.1
More recently, researchers looking at the effects of massage therapy on the growth and body composition parameters in preterm infants found three consecutive 15-minute massages over the course of five days was associated with significant increase in daily weight gain and growth velocity.2
Additionally, a 2022 study3 exploring the efficacy of non-pharmacological interventions for symptoms associated with fibromyalgia found that massage therapy was one of the interventions that improved self-reported outcomes on the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (the primary outcome measure for the study), including physical functioning, work difficulty, pain, fatigue, stiffness, tiredness, anxiety and depression.
Even without robust research, however, the massage therapists we talked to were clear that shorter massage sessions can be beneficial, even necessary, for some client demographics. “In my practice, shorter sessions work for clients for medical reasons, usually because of excessive fatigue related to a condition such as fibromyalgia or an autoimmune condition, or treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy for cancer,” explains Julie Goodwin, LMT.
Many clients with fibromyalgia who are experiencing excessive tiredness or fatigue will likely request shorter massage sessions themselves, and some won’t be able to tolerate longer sessions at all, Goodwin notes.
Additionally, massage therapists who want to bill insurance may find shorter sessions are required when working with clients with health conditions. “In health care, it is the insurance companies that are calling the shots, and they aren’t going to approve an hour massage when research says only 20 minutes will yield the same results,” says Susan Salvo, EdD, BCTMB, LMT. “It’s not a negative, it’s just what evidence says.”
Clients managing chronic health conditions are not the only people who might find shorter massage sessions helpful, however. “One research study I read said that people value time saved over money saved,” Salvo explains. “Clients see time as a more valuable commodity because once it is gone you can never get it back. So from that standpoint, busy executives, busy moms, students—it’s almost like it transcends all barriers.”
Shorter Massages Can Mean Better Self-Care for Massage Therapists
Shorter massage sessions can benefit massage therapists, too, lessening some of the physical strain of massage throughout the day, especially if shorter sessions are integrated into a schedule that includes longer appointments. Veteran massage therapists who may be looking to slow down their schedules might also look to shorter sessions to achieve that goal. “Shorter sessions can prevent excessive fatigue and overuse of hands and forearms,” Goodwin says. “Especially if the shorter session focuses on techniques that can be performed while seated, such as detailed work on the face, head or feet.”
A word of caution: Be careful not to overpack your schedule. Review your workweek and make sure you haven’t just replaced longer massage sessions with back to back to back to back shorter sessions, because then the physical benefits you might get from pulling back on 60- and 90-minute sessions may be lost or even compounded. Find what combination works best for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Along with being a good self-care strategy, shorter massage sessions might also make marketing your practice a little easier. “I think it will make massage more appealing to a wider range of people,” Salvo explains. “People who don’t have the time to spend because they have kids or tight schedules. I like the appeal from that standpoint.”
Some massage franchises have begun offering shorter massage sessions that lean heavily on rapid percussion technology to relieve muscle tension. These sessions can typically be booked as 30-minute standalone appointments or 10-minute add-on services.
For any massage therapist looking to begin offering an option for shorter massage sessions, Goodwin says the key is to focus on the benefit for the client, whether that is physical, such as avoiding excessive fatigue, or logistical, such as being able to fit massage into a tight schedule.
“I think that we should be creating client-centered services. This is a great example of a practice change that I think is client-driven,” Salvo says. “I think we need to be embracing it and celebrating it because it is a wonderful thing. This is what we are here for, to serve our clients. I am excited to see businesses and franchises responding to that call.”
But as Salvo notes, massage therapists might need to be persuaded to experiment with offering shorter sessions. “I think it needs to be something we are exposed to earlier in our careers. I do think that it is a mindset,” she says. “Therapists who have a growth mindset are going to quickly adapt to this idea.”
Chair Massage: An Effective Entry Point?
For massage therapists who are unsure about more regularly offering shorter massage sessions—or how to get started—chair massage may be an effective entry point. “The only time in massage school we teach shorter sessions is when it is relatable to a sports massage or a chair massage,” says Salvo.
A 2021 study4 on the effectiveness of shorter chair massage sessions on stress and pain in oncology showed positive results. The study evaluated the effectiveness of two 15-minute chair massages, twice a week for three weeks. Participants included 60 women from two hospital oncology nursing teams. Results suggest chair massage reduced stress and pain interference in the oncology team’s daily life activities.
Additionally, the accessibility and portability of chair massage makes this offering particularly attractive to massage therapists who may want to branch out—both from their massage studio and the more traditional 60- and 90-minute massage sessions. By offering chair massage services at corporate offices, wellness fairs or community events, for example, massage therapists can raise awareness about the benefits of massage while also showcasing their practice and attracting potential clients.
Another benefit to consider is that chair massage is a convenient way to introduce your skills to potential clients, which may encourage people to seek additional services, such as full-body massages or longer sessions.
Massage Therapy Journal
Meeting the Needs of Elder Clients
1. Poppendieck W, Wegmann M, Ferrauti A, Kellmann M, Pfeiffer M, Meyer T. “Massage and performance recovery: a meta-analytical review.” Sports Med. 2016 Feb;46(2):183-204.
2. Elmoneim MA, Mohamed HA, Awad A, El-Hawary A, Salem N, El Hella R, Nasef N, Abdel-Hady H. “Effect of tactile/kinesthetic massage therapy on growth and body composition of preterm infants.” Eur J Pediatr. 2021 Jan;180(1):207–215.
3. Kundakci B, Kaur J, Goh SL, Hall M, Doherty M, Zhang W, Abhishek A. “Efficacy of nonpharmacological interventions for individual features of fibromyalgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” Pain. 2022 Aug 1;163(8):1432-1445.
4. de Souza TPB, Kurebayashi LFS, de Souza-Talarico JN, Turrini RNT. “The effectiveness of chair massage on stress and pain in oncology.” Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2021 Sep 2;14(3):27-38.