What Is A Massage Therapist?
Massage therapists treat clients' aches and pains, or provide a relaxing experience, by using their hands to manipulate soft-tissue muscles. Massage therapists practice their craft in a variety of settings, including spas, hospitals, chiropractic offices, gyms, wellness centers, and even airports, cruise ships and shopping malls. More information is available on the massage therapy careers page.
Massage Therapist Program Information
The post-secondary education required to start a career as a massage therapist in most states usually includes at least 500 hours of combined study and experience, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012). Myriad colleges, universities and community colleges, as well as private schools, offer education for aspiring massage therapists.
Students at massage therapy schools are exposed to the principles of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, massage techniques, customer communication and more. Classes are designed to give students an understanding of the human body and its responses to massage techniques. Some schools, such as community colleges, vocational schools or private institutions, may offer day or evening programs.
Massage Therapy Program Types
Different kinds of massage therapy programs are available:
- Certificate: On average, depending on the school and the student's schedule, it takes most students two semesters of full-time study to complete a certificate program.
- Associate degree: It typically takes two years of full-time study to complete this program. An associate degree may appeal to students who want to continue their education with a bachelor's degree or who would like to own their own business. Associate degree programs may include general education classes that could help develop business-related skills such as math and communication.
Massage Therapy Licensing
Either program can help students gain the educational background they need to request a license, which is required in 43 states (bls.gov, 2012). Aspiring massage therapists must pass an examination in order to be licensed. In addition to state exams, there are two nationally recognized tests:
- Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx)
- National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCETMB)
Each state's board of massage therapists typically issues a list of accredited institutions and grants licenses to qualified graduates of these massage therapy schools. Many massage professionals take additional coursework as continuing education credits, which they often need to keep their licenses and certifications current.
Massage Therapist Course Descriptions
While each massage therapy school might have a slightly unique approach to training and preparing massage therapists for their careers, the core classes required for each program tend to be similar. Common courses include the following:
- Human Anatomy and Physiology: Covers the organization of the body on a chemical, cellular, tissue and system level. Students learn about structures (anatomy) and their function (physiology) as well as skeletal/articular, muscular and nervous systems.
- Massage Business Practices: Introduces the business aspects of either working at or running a massage therapy business.
- Pathology: Focuses on common dysfunctions of human anatomy and physiology as a result of either disease or injury.
- Rehabilitative Massage: Includes advanced rehabilitative theory and technical skills to work with clients experiencing symptoms of myofascial or muscle pain.
Massage Therapy Specialties
Massage therapy offers a variety of specific niches to explore. Some specializations may require a separate certificate or additional training, which can potentially be obtained through continuing education credits. Different massage modalities may include:
- Craniosacral massage
- Deep tissue massage
- Laser therapy
- Pre-natal massage
- Sports massage
- Trigger point therapy
Related Career Options
While most graduates of massage therapy schools pursue careers within this field, other options may be possible, for example:
- Physical Therapy Assistants: Assist patients during their rehabilitation period while they recover from illnesses or injuries, helping them regain movement under the supervision of a physical therapist
- Athletic Trainers: Work with people of varying ages to help prevent, diagnose and treat muscle and bone injuries or related illnesses
- Spa Owner/Entrepreneurs: Own a small business that employs massage therapists and can provide therapeutic services to its clients
Some of these occupations may require practical experience or additional education or experience.
Links to Sources and Associations
Visit the following websites to find out more about massage therapy programs: