A Review of Soothe, "the Uber of Massage"

A sore neck, shoulders, and back pretty much come with the territory of chronic migraine. When my health insurance covered massage, I had a 90-minute appointment every week. That kept the body pain at bay, but massage has been out of my budget for the last five years. When a pinched nerve renders me motionless, I’ll get a massage, but that’s only about once a year.

In the search for an at-home fix, I decided to try an electric shiatsu massager. I found one that had great reviews and, at $40, cost half as much as an hour-long massage. The massager felt great when I first used it, but resulted in a pinched nerve in my neck the next morning. Even worse, it was a Saturday and my regular massage therapy studio had no appointments until Monday. After seeing good reviews of Soothe, I decided to give it a try.

Here's how Soothe works: You download an app and sign up. You say what kind of massage you want, whether you want a male or female massage therapist, and what time you want the appointment. You pay by credit card. They confirm when a massage therapist has agreed to that time slot. And you’re good to go. An hour-long massage is $99, though I had a $30 discount.

I downloaded the app and signed up. As a treat, I booked a couples’ massage for my husband and me. Booking was really easy, though the promo code box was in a strange place, so I had to call to get them to apply the $30 discount. I used the "special instructions" box to request massage therapists who don’t use essential oils. (This was a long shot, but most massage therapists I’ve seen don’t use them. Besides, this was an in-home service, so I hoped they would be less likely to use smelly stuff than at a massage studio.) My desired appointment time, which was five hours after I made the appointment, was approved within 15 minutes.

Two massage therapists arrived 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. One of them had equipment that reeked of essential oils (which, oddly, smelled just like scented tampons). Like I said, I knew it was a long shot, so I got out my charcoal face mask to wear for the session. After I told her I was wearing a mask because I was extremely sensitive to odors, she passed me a box full of essential oils and asked which ones I wanted her to use. I requested she take them out to her car. She seemed a bit surprised, but obliged.

The massage itself was awful. The sensation is one I’m familiar with from amateur massages, but it’s hard to explain. I describe it as falling off the muscle—it’s like going against the grain of the muscle. It’s painful and jarring, neither of which are adjectives that should describe a professional massage. I know it’s important for a client to communicate what they need, but I could not figure out what to say (other than, “Did you even take an anatomy class?”). The long strokes she did on my major muscles were nice, so I focused on those through the massage. Thanks to two naproxen, my pinched nerve was a lot better by the time the massage therapists arrived. Thanks to an unskilled massage therapist, it was worse when the massage was over.

This was literally the worst massage I’ve ever had. I’ve had $20 student massages that were better—I’ve even had free student massages that were better! I assumed I got a dud of a therapist. Until my husband told me that his massage therapist had exactly the same shortcomings. We both took naproxen following the massage and hoped we wouldn't feel worse in the morning. I deleted the Soothe app from my phone.

I’m normally really picky about choosing a massage therapist—getting references and seeing how long they’ve been licensed and practicing. I knew having a random massage therapist through Soothe was unlikely to work out, but still can’t believe just how bad it was. I thought, at worse, the massage would be mediocre. I didn’t expect it would actually increase my pain. In retrospect, I’m not too surprised. Uber works because driving is a skill anyone can be good at. Massage therapy takes good training and a practiced touch—neither of which the therapists who work for Soothe apparently have to demonstrate possession of before getting clients.

I’m out $169. When I contacted Soothe, they apologized and offered me a $30 credit for a future massage. Since I’d already told them I would never use their company again, this offer cost them nothing. Despite running two medical grade air filters, my house smelled like scented tampons for three hours after the massage therapists left. My test drive of Soothe was a costly, smelly, and physically painful mistake. Now I've learned my lesson.

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