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01. An Introduction to Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a form of alternative healthcare. People who practice massage therapy professionally are called massage therapists. Their job is to manipulate their client’s muscles by using touch in order to relieve their pain, help them to relax and to heal their injuries.

If you are interested in massage therapist jobs, you will have to pursue professional education. Usually, this education consists of several hundred hours of study and supervised practice in order to earn a license or certificate. However, the educational standards and requirements for massage therapists vary widely by state. Therefore, if you want to start massage therapy training, you should check with your state to see what the specific standards are where you live.

People who attend massage therapy schools must develop a thorough knowledge of anatomy so that they do not accidentally injure their clients. In addition, massage therapy students should have excellent people skills since they need to be comfortable touching their clients and helping them to relax during their session.

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02. Massage Therapy Defined

Massage therapists use touch to increase the general wellness of their clients through massage sessions that typically last 10 to 90 minutes. By manipulating their client’s muscles, massage therapists can help their clients to recover from injury, to relieve their pain and to reduce their stress through relaxation. Although massage therapists most frequently use their hands and forearms to perform massages, some therapists also use their feet for specific types of massage. In fact, there are many types of massage to suit the needs of certain clients, and each type requires different techniques. Some types of massage that therapists can specialize in include Swedish massage, prenatal massage, sports injury massage and deep-tissue massage.

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03. Things to Consider

If you are considering attending massage therapy school, there are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind.

Physical Demands

Massage therapy can be physically demanding since it requires therapists to perform repetitive motions, which can injure their joints. Elbows, wrists, hands and fingers are especially at risk of injury. In addition, massage therapists stand for most or all of the day, so they can become fatigued. Therefore, massage therapy training emphasizes the proper ergonomic techniques that therapists should observe in order to prolong their careers and avoid injuring themselves.

Education and Licensing

The amount of education that you need to work as a massage therapist varies according to your location. As of 2010, 33 states regulated the practice of massage therapy by requiring that therapists complete at least 500 hours of professional training. Some states even require massage therapy students to complete up to 1,000 hours of training before they can work professionally. They must also pass a massage therapy certification exam that is administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Once you pass that exam, you will be professionally certified. Some states also require massage therapists to obtain a license by passing an additional state exam. You can see a list of states that regulate massage therapy programs at the American Massage Therapy Association website.

In addition, prospective massage therapists should keep in mind that you do not need to earn a traditional degree to become certified or licensed in this field. You do need to complete training at a massage therapy school. But many massage therapy schools are academies or institutions that only provide very focused training in massage therapy techniques, which will prepare you to take the national certification exam just as well as a degree from a traditional college or university will.

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04. Types of Massage Therapy Professions

Although there are many different types of massage therapy, most massage therapist jobs are defined by their work environment.

Massage Therapist, Medical Specialization

Job Description
Medical massage therapists help their clients to recover from injuries that are typically sustained at work or in car accidents, like whiplash, migraines or repetitive motion injuries. Some medical massage therapists work with expectant mothers to provide prenatal massages. These therapists typically follow the instructions of physicians in healthcare facilities, and they keep doctors informed of their patient’s progress.
Average Salary
$34,900
Education Required
Varies by state; certificate (9 – 12 months) recommended
Work Environment
Medical clinics, massage clinics, fitness centers

Massage Therapist, Sports Therapy Specialization

Job Description
Massage therapists who focus on helping athletes to recover from sports injuries are called sports therapy massage therapists. They work with athletes to reduce pain and muscle tension. Usually they focus on massaging a specific part of the body, like a player’s shoulders or calves. Some sports therapists are employed by specific athletic organizations, while others work in clinics and see clients on an individual basis.
Average Salary
$34,900
Education Required
Varies by state; certificate (9 – 12 months) recommended
Work Environment
Medical clinics, massage clinics, fitness centers, athletic organizations

Massage Therapist, Spa Therapy Specialization

Job Description
Massage therapists who have a spa therapy focus are experts in relaxation techniques. They provide either full-body or localized massages, which focus on a certain area of the body like the neck or feet. Some spa therapists enhance their massages with techniques like aromatherapy or hot stones.
Average Salary
$34,900
Education Required
Varies by state; certificate (9 – 12 months) recommended
Work Environment
Massage clinics, spas, salons, hotels, private practice

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05. Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, massage therapy jobs will increase by about 20% through 2020. As of 2010, there were about 153,700 massage therapists employed in the United States, but the number of massage therapist jobs is expected to increase to about 184,600 in the next decade. The expected growth in massage therapy jobs is a lot faster than the average employment growth that has been predicted for all careers.

Massage Therapists Employeed Nationally

2010
153,700
2020
184,600

If you are interested in the job outlook for massage therapists, you are probably also curious about the average massage therapy salary. Although the median massage therapy salary is about $35,000 per year, those who work full time or at high-end spas can make a massage therapist salary of up to $69,000. On the other hand, those who work part-time may make a much lower massage therapist salary of about $17,000 per year until they are able to build a loyal client base. Generally speaking, job prospects for massage therapists are best for people who complete formal massage therapy training and who pass the professional exam administered by their state.

Previous salary growth information for massage therapists are shown below:

Average Salary growth

2007
$40,330
2008
$39,850
2009
$39,780
2010
$39,770
2011
$39,920

Salary by Percentile

10th Percentile
$18,300
25th Percentile
$24,810
50th Percentile
$35,830
75th Percentile
$50,710
90th Percentile
$69,070
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06. The Educational Timeline

The amount of time that it takes to become a massage therapist varies according to your state’s regulations. Most states require you to complete at least 500 hours of supervised training, which most students are able to complete in 9 months to 1 year. But some states require about 1,000 hours of supervised training in massage therapist schools, so it could take you longer to complete your massage therapy classes.

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07. Studying Massage Therapy

You will gain an understanding of a number of subject areas as well as develop fundamental skills in your massage therapy training program.

KNOWLEDGE

Anatomy and Physiology

Anatomy and physiology describe the parts of the body and how they work together in healthy people. Specifically, anatomy discusses the names and particular functions of different components of the human body, like organs, bones and muscles. Physiology examines the way that these components interact with each other through bodily systems like the respiratory, muscular and reproductive systems.

Kinesiology

Kinesiology is the study of movement. This subject discusses the biomechanics of the human body, including how different body parts work together to allow physical actions like walking or hitting a ball. Other topics that are relevant to kinesiology include motor skills, nutrition, therapeutic exercise and physical therapy.

Medical Terminology

Medical terminology is a specialized vocabulary that is used by workers in the medical and healthcare fields to describe clinical procedures, injuries and treatments plans. This set of terms is also relevant to legal issues in the healthcare field. Students will learn how to accurately describe medical conditions to other healthcare professionals using medical terminology.

Clinic Operations

Courses in clinic operations examine the operating procedures of clinics in an attempt to help them run their business smoothly and efficiently. Some of the topics that students can expect to learn through this subject include case management, administrative skills, communication and proper documentation of the progress, setbacks and medical concerns that clients have before and after sessions.

Business

Business classes are an important component in massage therapy curriculums because many therapists work independently. Business classes teach students how to run a profitable small business by effectively marketing their product, providing their customers with good service and managing their accounts.

SKILLS

Healthcare Ethics

Healthcare ethics are the principles that people in the medical field use to help them make decisions and interact with their patients or clients appropriately. Massage therapists must follow a code of ethics that sets standards for establishing boundaries with clients, maintaining accountability and adhering to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which includes guidelines on protecting the privacy of individual’s health information.

Client Assessment

As a massage therapist, you will often see clients who do not know how to describe the pain that they are feeling or its cause. Your massage therapy courses will teach you about the most common causes for certain types of injury and stress so that you can assess the likely causes of your client’s health problems and determine the best therapy techniques to use in order to relieve their symptoms.

Therapy Techniques

No 2 clients are exactly alike, so in your massage therapy program, you will learn a wide variety of therapy techniques to help you treat your clients. Some of the techniques that you are likely to learn include deep-tissue massage, Swedish massage and neuromuscular massage.

Stress Management

Many clients seek massage to relieve their stress, so as a massage therapist, you will become an expert in stress management. You will be trained to reduce your own stress and to help others to relieve their tension by teaching them relaxation techniques like deep breathing and mindfulness.

Communication

Since you will be working very closely with your clients as a massage therapist, communication is extremely important. As you progress through your massage therapy curriculum, you will learn to actively listen to the concerns of your clients. You will also help them feel comfortable by clearly explaining massage therapy procedures and monitoring their responses during your session.

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08. Types of Massage Therapy Degrees

In the past, massage therapists often learned their trade by apprenticing with professionals. But since the profession has grown, the demand for well-trained therapists has led to the establishment of formal training programs at massage therapy schools and academies around the nation. Now, students can earn a certificate or a massage therapy degree at the associates level from an accredited massage therapist school.

  • Certificate
  • Associates Degrees
  • Bachelors Degrees

Certificate

Certificates are the fastest option if you want to gain formal education in massage therapy. They generally take less time and cost less money than full degree programs.

Types of Massage Therapy Certificates

You can earn an undergraduate certificate from massage therapy colleges, which will teach you the essential knowledge and skills of this profession.

Length of Massage Therapy Certificate Programs

Depending on state regulations, massage therapy certificate programs require 500 to 1,000 hours of supervised training. Students can usually complete certificate programs at massage therapist schools in 9 months to a year.

Common Courses in Massage Therapy Certificate Programs

The exact courses that you will take in massage therapy certificate programs vary according to the school that you attend. But typically, massage therapist schools offer certificate classes like anatomy, physiology, medical terminology and kinesiology, which is the science of movement. In addition, you will learn many different massage therapy techniques through your massage therapy classes.

Jobs That You Can Secure With a Certificate in Massage Therapy

With a certificate in massage therapy, you are qualified to work as a massage therapist in environments like massage clinics, fitness centers, spas and private practice. In some states, you will be qualified to work at medical clinics too.

Choosing a School to Attend for a Certificate in Massage Therapy

When you are looking for a good massage therapist school, the most important thing to consider is whether your education will qualify you to take the certification exam that is administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Even if your state is among the minority that doesn’t require massage therapist certification, you will improve your professional credibility and your job prospects by earning certification. To qualify to take the certification exam, your massage therapy college should require you to complete at least 500 hours of supervised massage practice.

Studying Online for a Certificate in Massage Therapy

You should not attempt to earn your massage therapy certificate online. Although you may be able to learn the theory of massage techniques through online videos or text, massage is a subject that you have to learn by doing. Furthermore, you need to complete at least 500 supervised hours of massage training before you are qualified to become certified. You must be observed in person, so online massage therapy training is impractical.


Associates Degree

Massage therapy associates degrees provide students with a thorough understanding of the theory and practice of massage therapy. Students who complete an associates degree in massage therapy will be well-prepared to take the national certification exam and to find jobs at a variety of therapeutic establishments.

Types of Massage Therapy Associates Degrees

Associates of Science (AS)

An AS in massage therapy emphasizes the scientific points of the curriculum. This is the best degree to pursue if you want to transfer into a bachelors degree program in a related subject.

Associates of Applied Science (AAS)

An AAS degree focuses on teaching technical career skills to students. This option is preferable if you want to start working as a massage therapist as soon as you graduate from your program.

Length of Massage Therapy Associates Degree Programs

An associates degree in massage therapy typically consists of 60 to 70 credit hours. Most students complete associates degrees in about 2 years.

Common Courses in Massage Therapy Associates Degree Programs

At the associates degree level, the best massage therapy schools offer courses like human anatomy and physiology, professional healthcare ethics and pathology. You will also take massage therapy courses about specific types of massage, like sports massage, massage therapy and deep tissue massage.

Jobs That You Can Secure With an Associates Degree in Massage Therapy

When you graduate with an associates in massage therapy degree, you will be qualified to work as a massage therapist in institutions like spas, medical clinics, massage clinics and in your own private practice.

Choosing a School to Attend for an Associates Degree in Massage Therapy

As you look for massage therapy colleges, you should consider attending a school that is accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA). Although accreditation is not mandatory, you can be sure that you are getting a high quality education from an accredited massage therapy school. But if you decide to attend a massage therapy school that does not have COMTA accreditation, you should compare its curriculum to the massage therapy course list of an accredited school to make sure that your massage therapy college is preparing you to take and pass the national certification exam, which is offered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

Studying Online for an Associates Degree in Massage Therapy

No massage therapy colleges offer completely online degrees in this field. There are many disadvantages to pursuing a massage therapy degree online. Massage therapy is a subject that must be studied in person due to the fact that it involves working very closely with clients. Skills like different massage techniques, client assessment and customer service cannot be learned through an online massage therapy course. Therefore, it is a not a good idea to try to earn your massage therapy degree online.


Bachelors Degree

Bachelors degrees that focus exclusively on massage therapy are very rare. However, some schools offer bachelors degrees that incorporate massage therapy courses. If you are interested in attaining a bachelors degree in a related field, you can look for programs in holistic healing, natural health science and physical therapy.

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09. Finding a School

The following states have massage therapy degree programs:


Massage Therapy Schools

Find Schools

Here are some of our featured programs available for you to choose:

Kaplan University

Degrees Offered

Walden University

Degrees Offered