To Glute Or Not To Glute?

When it comes to the gluteal muscles, or “glutes” as they’re commonly referred to, there is a surprising amount of debate among bodyworkers and clients alike as to whether this area of the body should be included in a regular massage session or not. The buttocks have long been an area that, especially in the U.S., have been seen as potentially erotic in nature, with many people growing up knowing that someone touching their behind is an inappropriate gesture unless that person has express consent to do so. Even when entering massage school, many students fill out paperwork that asks them both if they are comfortable having their gluteals worked on as well as whether they are comfortable working on the gluteals of their fellow students. So should the gluteals have a regular place in your massage sessions, or is it best left out?

For many practitioners that I know, the gluteals are an essential set of muscles that carry a huge amount of tension, and they wouldn’t hear of leaving them out of any client’s session. Some even spend extra time in the area just to make sure that any tension is alleviated and the muscle function is restored. However, while the intentions of therapists that follow this mindset is extremely noble, it can stray into uncomfortable territory for clients who are sensitive about having their buttocks touched. If the therapist does not give them a chance to express whether they would like work on that area or not and the therapist does it anyway, the client may never return, assuming that the therapist was massaging them in an inappropriate way.

Other therapists don’t touch the gluteals at all unless they are specifically requested to do so by the client. Some wish to avoid causing any discomfort or potentially sending the wrong message to the client, so they don’t make it a part of their sessions out of habit. Or, they simply feel that they don’t have the time to adequately address the muscles, and decide that it is better to not touch them at all rather than give them less attention than they possible deserve. Again, though, this may end up being a disservice to the client. Some clients really need gluteal work but don’t realize that they need it. Thus, clients once more may not return to a therapist that does not do any work on their gluteals, especially if the client was expecting or hoping for work on that area.

Most therapists try to find a middle ground between the two ends of the debate. For instance, some therapists will work on the glutes every time, but will keep the drape over the area to make it more comfortable for any clients who are nervous about that area being touched. The extra layer between the therapist’s hands and the client’s skin can offer some additional security and make the client feel that the therapist is not trying to touch them inappropriately. Offering the option for clients to keep their underwear on while the area is worked can add another layer of security. However, it does restrict the ability of the therapist to do more effective, in-depth work if the glutes need it. To avoid these complications, other therapists will do stretches or similar release work around the area rather than working on it directly so that the muscles still get some benefit without necessarily having direct contact.

Perhaps the best way to handle the glutes, though, is through simple communication, and this communication needs to start on the therapist’s end. As qualified professionals, we need to be the ones asking our clients if they would like gluteal massage and explaining the benefits without being pushy if they express hesitation or uncertainty. This is especially important for those clients who are new to massage, so that they are assured a positive experience in which they feel safe and in control of their session. It can be something as simple as having the question in a yes or no format on their intake form, or generically asking whether there are any areas they would like you to avoid. (A brief note about the latter option:If you do choose it, be aware that clients new to massage may not be aware that glutes are addressed at all during massage and, therefore, may not think to mark the glutes down as an area they would like avoided during their session. It still pays to confirm with new clients whether they would like their glutes addressed if they don’t mark anything down, just to be safe.) At the end of the day, a client may change her mind and decide that a glute massage sounds like a great idea when you explain that it can help alleviate her low back pain; but it has to be the client’s decision, made with full knowledge that you are performing a professional massage and that the glutes, while a really big deal muscle-wise, are really not that big a deal in any other context and that you will treat them with respect.