Massage bolsters have three purposes: comfort for the client, access for the therapist, and safety for clients with certain medical conditions. Bolster pillows can alleviate pressure, improve body alignment, and make it easier for the client to breathe, among other benefits.
Although bed pillows may work in a pinch, you will have greater versatility and support if you use bolster pillows. Massage bolsters are specifically designed for the needs of bodywork therapists. They are firmer than regular bed pillows or decorative bolsters. They take less time to “settle,” and they provide more support and resistance for bodywork. Just as the table foam needs to provide a certain amount of resistance for deep strokes and therapeutic work, bolsters also need to provide a certain amount of resistance.
Massage bolsters are protected by a vinyl covering that makes them easier to clean and prevents contamination from body fluids, lubricants, and oils from the client’s skin. Bolster covers offer further protection, in the same way that table linens protect your table. Some therapists prefer to slip the bolster underneath the bottom sheet on the table. This saves on laundry and linen costs; however, it takes some finesse in order to position the bolster without messing up the sheets.
It’s a good idea to have several bolsters with different sizes on hand. A full round bolster can provide more support in areas such as under the knees, while a half round bolster, which provides only about half as much height, can support smaller areas such as under the neck in a supine position. Since each client is different, take the time to assess each client’s individual needs for bolstering, comfort, and positioning.