by Angie Patrick
Massage tables are like elegant desserts, the best ones have the perfect balance of sumptuous and delicious layers.
It’s true… Go to any luxury hotel and enjoy a delicious gourmet dinner. Once you have had your fill of the entrée, move on to the dessert. Chances are the dessert tray you will be presented will be filled with desserts sporting layer after layer of sheer decadence. More layers really equal more luxury and more indulgence…Is it possible to go overboard on an expertly prepared dessert? In my book, NO!!! You can never be too over the top when it comes to Tiramisu or Death By Chocolate…I think most will agree!
But this is where the table similarities with desserts end. It is indeed possible to go overboard with layers on your massage table. So much so that it can become more of a distraction rather than an indulgence.
I have seen some who will place a sheet over a table and call it complete. This can leave a client shivering and feeling more than a little exposed. I have also witnessed other therapists create the equivalent to the Leaning Tower of Pisa in an effort to make the table more comfortable. This often results in the client fussing with the table covers and struggling to keep them in place while trying to roll over, or even worse, with the coverings sliding to the floor completely when the client gets off the table due to ill fitting or inappropriate coverings not created for use on a massage table.
How do you know when enough is enough? How can you be sure you have not crossed the line between cocooning comfort and overcompensation for an uncomfortable table? Often these lines can be blurred; let’s look at some of the regularly used table coverings and their uses, in order of their layering on the table, and then you can utilize the information provided to pick and choose which would be appropriate for your specific applications.
Let’s begin with the table warmer.
Table warmers come in many different forms. Some are washable, while others are not. Some are suited for treatments where they may come in contact with water; others are not made to withstand moisture. Before you choose, decide whether or not you plan to practice treatments and modalities that require the warmer to be waterproof. For instance, if your plan is to offer herbal wraps, you will most likely opt for the waterproof options for safety’s sake. If your plan doesn’t include treatments utilizing moisture and free flowing water, then a regular fabric table warmer will work fine. In all cases, check to be sure the warmer has an auto off feature. This alleviates the age old worry in the middle of the night as you sit straight up in bed, “Did I unplug the table warmer?” Some models can be programmed to work continuously for up to 99 minutes, and then power down. This is a great feature, and one I personally prefer. It takes the guesswork out of whether or not the warmer will remain on for the full treatment; given the average massage is one to one and a half hours it should cover most treatments. The trick is remembering to reset it between clients so it does not power down in the middle of your massage. Table warmers are typically washable on the gentle cycle, although it is preferable to hang them to dry to better prevent the warming filaments from breakage.
Let’s take a look at some ideas for added padding.
Fleece is the most popular and widely utilized plush covering. This covering provides additional cushion and a degree of comfort that a sheet on bare vinyl will not provide. Look for fleece having elastic corner holds or a fitted cover to secure the fleece to the table. You have a couple of choices in the type of fleece you utilize. Some people only want wool fleece pads. Although these are very warm and cozy, they cannot be machine washed and some clients may well have allergies to wool. I prefer the synthetic fleece because it offers greater flexibility in washing. It can be machine washed and dried in the dryer on fluff or air dry without heat. I would suggest a therapist have a few sets of fleece so they can be changed out between clients on a busy day. They are more affordable than ever before, ranging from $25-$110 depending on the material you choose.
Another popular option for added comfort is the memory foam pad covered in vinyl. This is a fantastic way to soften a hard table or elongate the life of one that is beginning to show wear on the padding. It is usually 2-3 inches thick and is made of visco-elastic material which reacts to body heat, conforming to the contours of the body. These, when covered with vinyl, are easily cleaned and offer a very comfortable foundation for your client. While not inexpensive, they can truly provide a luxurious feel to your table and extend the usefulness of a table in the beginning stages of wear allowing an additional pocket of time before you must invest in a new table.
Some therapists utilize hospital like egg crates. While these are great in a hospital setting for single patients, I am not a fan of using these for multiple clients. Even though these are covered with a sheet during usage, they are absorbent and will hold excess oil, cream, gel, lotion, or worse yet, body grime. For the client, thoughts regarding cleanliness can run through their mind, and can detract from the massage experience. Avoid the usage of an egg crate in a professional massage table setting, opting for something that can readily be cleaned or laundered.
Let’s talk about the sheets you choose.
Once your warmer and choice of pad are in place, affix your fitted sheet from your massage table sheet set to the table. The next layer is your top sheet. Please be sure the sheet sets you buy are appropriate for a professional setting. I have seen the occasional therapist with cartoon character sheets fitting a twin bed, use these on their professional massage table. The intent is to be cute and quirky, but the reality is you come off looking ill prepared, childish and difficult to be taken seriously. Purchasing sheets appropriate for your practice is fundamental in being considered a professional. Be sure your sheets are in good repair, non-stained, and do not reek of old oil. This is more than a wee bit off putting, and can ruin the whole massage experience, no matter how expertly executed, for anyone on gracing your table.
Your choice in sheet material is one that could require some additional thought. Although we all want an attractive and inviting table, being “pretty” may not be enough! Look for fabrics that are durable, and can withstand repeated usage and laundering. Here are a few types of the most commonly chosen sheet types, and reasons why they may or may not be a fit for your needs.
Cotton-Poly: These are a blend of cotton content and polyester. These sheets are thinner, and are great in warmer climates. They resist wrinkling, although they are not wrinkle free. There is little shrinkage, and usually hold up well during laundering.
Muslin: Very thin fabric, does not offer much coverage for client modesty. These sheets may work well when used in wraps. Not a favorite among most therapists for everyday use on their massage table.
Cotton: Natural fiber, flat spun fiber finish, and soft to the skin. For client modesty, look for sheets with 300-350 thread count. These are a bit thicker and offer greater coverage. Buy sheets made of cotton a bit larger than your table to allow for inevitable shrinkage. These will launder well, although they will wrinkle substantially if left in the dryer unattended after drying.
Flannel: A tried and true staple in any therapist arsenal. This is a natural cotton fiber that has been spun to allow fibers to be “unruly”, and then brushed to allow fibers to loosen and become lofty. These sheets offer superb coverage and long wear. The more they are washed, the softer they become. Flannel is not gauged in thread count, it is rated by weight per square meter. For durable flannel that will wear well, look for flannel with weight of 150 GSM or greater. These weights will launder well, but will wrinkle if left in a basket after washing. Again, be sure to buy sheets large enough to accommodate shrinkage.
Bamboo: A new fiber in the massage sheet arena. This is a fiber that is incredibly soft to the touch. It feels almost silky, and can provide a very luxurious feel to your table. It is also a nice “trendy” component to say you are using greener products. Even though there are several positive reasons to choose bamboo, it also has a few setbacks. It can be price prohibitive in many cases, and it can often have substantial shrinkage and wrinkling if laundered in any way other than described on the packaging. It is also still somewhat fragile in its longevity, allowing the stitching holes to stretch and become somewhat unsightly. If you have the budget, time and opportunity to truly care for these sheets, they may be a good fit. If you are looking for a workhorse, you may decide to opt for another material.
In all sheets, you will want to be sure the pocket is deep enough to accommodate the table warmer, and fleece or memory foam pad as well as the table. In the top sheet, you will likely wish to find something measuring 59-65 inches wide and 80-90 inches long. Not only will this allow nicely for any shrinkage, it will continue to provide adequate coverage for the client following laundering. This is why most household sheets for twin beds do not always offer a perfect fit, and it is preferred to order professionally appropriate sheets designed specifically for use on a professional massage table.
Now we move to the blanket.
Here lie many schools of thought of materials for blanket. Again, it is driven by your needs and usage. I will provide you with the most common offerings, although there are many more on the market than I can list here.
Cotton Thermal: Likely the most widely used blanket in massage. It is loosely woven, thicker yarn cotton which will remain breathable while retaining warmth. It is prone to shrinkage, and does have a tendency to “pick” or become snagged. These are affordable and come in an array of designer colors.
Fleece: Softness is the hallmark of this fabric. It harkens to days when we were children and all things we snuggled with were fluffy and soft. It evokes an instant relaxation response in most, and is widely used in the industry. It will launder well, although it is prone to shed in the first few washes. Most will not have appreciable shrinkage. These will also wrinkle, but not much.
Bamboo: This fabric makes a lovely blanket; offering softness and luxury to any table. This is not a very durable fiber so handling and laundering of the blanket must be done with care. It is prone to pilling and picking, so it should be handled with greater care. It will also shrink if dried in a heat setting. Tumbling on low heat or no heat is preferred to extend the life of the blanket.
Down Comforter and Duvet: Incredibly lush and totally cocooning, I have to say I love this table covering. It’s downside is the expense and the upkeep of the duvet covers between clients. For a similar feel without the expense, look for down alternative comforters. These can also alleviate the allergy reaction in those allergic to down.
This brings us to the decorative extras that can make a table a sanctuary…
Many therapists have different ideas about the way they would like their table to look and feel to the client before they climb in. Some would opt for a cleaner, more luxurious spa feel with a crisp white duvet covering a plush down comforter. Others may prefer a world traveler look, complete with colorful saris from India or Pakistan accompanied by a decorative pillow of silk or satin. Still others may opt for a more ethereal feel, with thin gossamer fabrics covering their table lending it a cloudlike quality. I have seen tables with flower petals scattered on them, or simply dressed with a bundle of freshly cut rosemary sprigs tied with a piece of raffia placed in the center of the table. I have seen the table scattered with chakra stones, as well as beautiful bowls of water with a Beta Fish swimming in it on the floor beneath the headrest for a lovely view while face down. Any one of these ideas can evoke a serene feeling of calm and relaxation. The truth is, there are no real wrong ideas when it comes to the decorative part of the table. Just, as in all things, present a professional appearance.