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What is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy is the area of study and practice that deals with patient care through various techniques and methods that relax tense muscles and facilitate in stress relief. Individuals in this field will learn a variety of therapeutic techniques used to massage and loosen muscles and relieve tension and pain through.
Individuals will be asked to work with a variety of customers and patients dealing with stress, muscle pain, tension or other similar ailments. Massage therapists tend to have odd hours, especially for individuals who make house calls, and many tend to work part time because of the physical toll the profession can have on one's hands.
How to Become a Massage Therapist
In order to become a massage therapist, you will need to step through a series of steps. We have outlined the steps below along with college considerations to help you make the best decision possible for your prospective career in massage therapy.
Step 1 - Research massage therapy programs and select a massage therapy school that is best for you. Complete the necessary training program, degree, or certification.
Step 2 - Once you have graduated from an accredited college, you will need to meet all applicable credential requirements in your state. In states where massage therapy is tightly regulated by government agencies, you will be required to obtain proper licensure after your complete your degree.
Step 3 - Massage therapy is a regulated industry in most states and those states with limited regulation are swiftly moving to standardize and regulate massage therapy in their areas of jurisdiction. From minimum training hours to standardized examinations, states will continue to work diligently to ensure proper procedures are in place prior to practicing massage therapy.
Massage therapy examinations are administered by MBLEx or The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and test contest, study guides, and applications are found on their website.
Educational Requirements for Massage Therapists
A degree in massage therapy demonstrates the individual's ability to relieve stress through the manipulation of soft tissue, deep tissue, connective tissue and muscles. Massage therapy incorporates various forms of therapy, such as acupuncture, acupressure, Swedish massage sport massage, aromatherapy and more. Individuals can seek licensure, certification, diploma or degree when pursuing a career in massage therapy.
The most common method is to pursue an associate's degree in massage therapy through community college, vocational college, or schools specializing in massage therapy. Typically, individual choosing to obtain a bachelor's will do so in a subject that is a companion to a massage therapy associates degree.
Online courses are also available, however hands on experience is a must for future employment. As with similar professions, an individual's ability is a cornerstone to his or her success. Students participating in an online program should find resources that will assist in applying knowledge learned into practical experience. This may be done by practicing on friends, or volunteering at a parlor or spa in order to work alongside professionals to refine and perfect techniques.
Those who pursue an associate's degree will be asked to take courses in:
- Various Massage Courses
- Business Management and Ethics
- Required General Education Courses
Top Massage Therapy Degree Online
Online college degree programs are the fastest growing segment of degree programs within higher education in the United States. As such, schools of all types continue to improve the number of degree tracks and instructional quality of distance learning programs. From accredited career colleges and vocational schools to trade schools and universities around the country, online learning is here to stay and will continue to grow steadily for the foreseeable future.
Whether in class or online, massage therapy degrees are a viable means to enter the field and thrive in this vocation. You will need to have some post-secondary training coupled with meeting all state-based certifications and licensure requirements prior to becoming a massage therapist. Generally, most massage therapists will have at least 500 hours of training through an accredited program sufficient to pass state thresholds and providing foundational knowledge to pass state licensing examinations.
Online massage therapy programs run the gambit from certificate programs through doctorate programs. What type of program you select wholly depends on your career objectives, time, resources, and personal goals. For example, if your goal is to become a licensed athletic trainer, you may elect to obtain a certificate in massage therapy followed by a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and then a master’s degree in athletic training. An overview of the types of online massage therapist degrees are listed below to help you decipher the top program for you.
Online Certificate Programs in Massage Therapy
Earning a Massage Therapy certificate online or in class will help students understand therapy basics and foundational elements of the functioning of the human body (kinesiology, anatomy, pathology, physiology, myofascial). Certificate degrees for massage therapists are typically 8-12 month programs.
Online Associate Degree in Massage Therapy
An online associate degree in massage therapy or physical therapy assisting will take 2-years of full-time schooling to complete with general education courses (philosophy, English composition, psychology) plus core curriculum classes. Many programs teach Eastern massage modalities (Thai, Energy Work, Acupressure, Hand & Foot Reflexology, Shiatsu, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Rocking & Shaking) along with Western methods (Sports Massage, Prenatal Massage, Hot Stone Massage, Lymphatic Massage, Swedish, and Deep Tissue) as part of their standard program.
Online Bachelor Degree in Massage Therapy
The bachelor degree track in massage therapy or exercise physiology are four-year programs at accredited colleges and universities. Bachelor degrees entail a greater number of general education courses along with more core curriculum to help students think deeper about the world around them and obtain greater expertise in their chosen field of study.
Online Master Degree in Athletic Training
Earning an online master’s degree in athletic training will typically be a 2-year program after earning a bachelor’s degree in a related field of study. Some programs in athletic training offer a concentration in applied medicine which bends the curriculum deeper into the sciences with substantive coursework in nutrition, biostatistics, clinical kinesiology, pathophysiology, orthopedics, therapeutic modalities, reconditioning, and rehabilitation.
Online Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy
An online doctorate degree in physical therapy or occupational therapy will often provide students with two entry points: direct freshman admit or graduate. The direct freshman program is for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree while the doctorate program track is designed for students who have already obtained a master’s degree. Programs will span from 2-4 years with the net result being able to step into a career as a physical therapist within a larger organization or by starting their own practice.
Job Titles of Massage Therapists
The number of different job titles for massage therapists is vast. Depending on the region and employer preference, you may see any number of the following job titles apply to the work of a massage therapist over your career. A brief list of job titles for a massage therapist include the following:
- Massage Therapist
- Medical Massage Therapist
- Registered Massage Therapist
- Licensed Massage Practitioner (LMP)
- Licensed Massage Therapist
- Bodywork Therapist
- Certified Massage Therapist (CMT)
- Clinical Massage Therapist
- Integrated Deep Tissue Massage Therapist
- Therapeutic Massage Technician
Career opportunities are abound for a massage therapist electing to study in an adjacent field. The this below represents related careers that may of interest to learn more about: nursing, chiropractor, exercise science, dietetics, acupuncture, nutrition, LPN, athletic trainer, physical therapist, holistic health, exercise physiologist, yoga training, or personal trainer.
Massage Therapy Job Duties
In a recent survey completed by the U.S. Department of Labor of massage therapists, professionals responded with a set of typical job responsibilities. While each job will vary from location to location with nuances and addends, the list below encompasses the most common job responsibilities of a massage therapist.
- Appropriately locate pressure points and diagnose root cause of pain or discomfort
- Effectively communicate with clients about medical histories, pain, anxiety, stress, discomfort, and physical goals to chart a path together
- Provide appropriate massage therapies to soft tissue and muscles to enhance wellness and rehabilitation objectives
- Accurately manage a patient’s treatment records
- Provide assessment of a client’s soft tissues, joint quality, joint function, range of motion, and overall muscle strength.
Where Do Massage Therapists Work?
A massage therapist can work in a variety of settings in a number of industries. From a large publicly traded corporation to non-profit organizations to private entities, a massage therapist can span industries far and wide. The list below will help you visualize a sampling of places a massage therapist can work after successfully completing a college program and obtaining all necessary licensure.
- Natural Health Stores
- Massage Centers
- Rehabilitation Clinics
- Professional Sports Teams
- Running Clubs
- Fitness Centers or Health Clubs
- Races or Sporting Events
- Medical Practices
- Physical Therapy Clinics
- Chiropractic Offices
- On-site Treatments
- Private Event
Massage Therapy College Accreditation Bodies
With 4 primary accreditation bodies in the United States for massage therapy, make sure your college has earned their accreditation from one of the following independent, third-parties. The importance of being accredited spans from the school’s curriculum and internal processes to your ability to apply for licensure and board certification. The list of four major massage therapy accreditation bodies in no particular order are:
- The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
- The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts & Sciences (NACCAS)
Is a Massage Therapy Board Certification Important?
The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) is responsible for providing board certifications. Earning a board issued certification is highly important and indicates to a potential employer your academic prowess and adds markedly to your professional credibility with or without substantive work experience in massage therapy.
Employment Opportunities and Massage Licensure
Massage therapists tend to have flexible hours and work part-time due to the physical strain from giving massages. Some individuals or business with accommodate clients by making appointments at the client's location. The variety of employment opportunities for a massage therapist are plentiful, this is due to an increasing demand for such services.
Over the next decade opportunities are expected to grow, this is primarily due to an aging population that will require physical treatment for pains that come naturally with age. The work performed can be physically draining and as such, odd or limited hours in a given week are standard. It is normal for a massage therapist to less than 30 hours a week.
Licensing for massage therapy varies from state to state, and national certification is needed. Massage therapy continuing education classes may be required every four years to maintain certification and licensing in some states. Individuals pursuing an education and career in massage therapy should familiarize themselves with local, state and federal regulations regarding massage therapy, and remain current to any changes that may be made in order to maintain compliance with the law.
Massage Therapy Jobs
Some individuals may choose to open their own business. Those that do will have to comply with local and state regulations regarding business as well as the practice of massage therapy. Private businesses may be specific to massage therapy por encompass a variety of services.
The viability of such businesses is based on quality of service and the number of clients that become repeat business. As with any business, maintaining a healthy rapport with clients and maintaining good business practice is tantamount to success. Possible employers of massage therapists include:
- Chiropractic Offices
- Massage Parlors
- Wellness Centers
States with Highest Employment of Massage Therapists
- California 16,090
- Florida 8,220
- Texas 6,790
- Colorado 4,950
- New York 4,180
Top Paying States for Massage Therapists
- Alaska $85,110
- New York $62,270
- Vermont $57,620
- Delaware $57,000
- Washington $55,920
Massage Therapist Salary
The annual median average salary for a massage therapist is $39,860 with an expected 22% growth rate in employment for massage therapy through 2024. This equates to an additional 49,000 jobs created for massage therapists during this reporting period. Income for a massage therapist will vary based on your qualifications and experience along with the number of hours worked in a given month or year.
Resources for Massage Therapists
In order to find a top massage therapy school near you or from around the country, simply visit any of the schools listed below and request information. Accredited massage therapy schools will be in touch with valuable program information, curriculum, financial aid, and the typical cost to attend a massage therapy program.
If you are considering pursuing a bachelor's degree in a related degree you may want to consider a Health and Physical Education Degree, Physical Therapy Degree, or a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree. For additional information, read our Complete Guide to a Career in Massage Therapy on our blog.