Massage therapy is a growing career field which easily adapts to the practitioner’s lifestyle and availability. Therapeutic treatments are administered to relieve physical injury and discomfort as well as to cultivate relaxation and relieve stress. There are a several possible types of massage, called modalities. According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the most popular massage modalities are Swedish, Shiatsu, deep-tissue, neuromuscular and sports massage; each provides unique benefits to the massage client. Massage therapists enjoy flexible hours, the freedom to work in a self-employed capacity and the opportunity to treat both new and long-term clients in settings including spas and salons, health clubs, resorts, private offices and clients’ homes.
Because of the sensitive nature of massage therapy practice, in which clients must often be partially or completely disrobed, ethics and sensitivity to the client’s needs and comfort level are essential. Stamina and knowledge of proper technique are also crucial, due to the physical demands of giving massage therapy. Basic business knowledge is also important for those looking to establish their own massage practice.
Education and Certification
The good news is that there is no formal education required. A high school diploma or GED are sufficient to enter this field. Education and certification requirements vary greatly state by state. Currently, 39 states regulate the field of massage therapy, according to AMTA, with most requiring 500 hours of massage training in order to qualify for a national or multi-state certification exam; some states, like New York, require 1,000 hours. After completing a training program, massage therapists can take the national certification exam administered by National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). After passing the exam, massage therapists can claim the ‘Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork’ (NCTMB) credential in all professional materials; certification must be renewed every four years. Many states require massage therapists to enroll in continuing education courses and renew their license regularly.
Employment and Specialty Opportunities
- Chair Massage- also known as corporate massage, is an acupressure-based field of massage therapy and is more brief, mobile and versatile than traditional table massage.
- Hypnotherapy- these courses teach practitioners to treat clients by means of their subconscious and focused relaxation techniques.
- Infant Massage- a specialized type of massage taught to deliver services to childbearing women and their infants.
- Myofascial Therapy- refers to the manual massage technique for stretching the fascia* and releasing bonds between fascia and integument, muscles and bones, with the goal of eliminating pain, increasing range of motion and balancing the body.
- Sports Massage- one of the fastest growing forms of treatment for athletes to help prevent injuries and to enhance performance.
Other specialty areas include: spa therapy, stone therapy, Shiatsu, Reiki, Thai bodywork, trigger point programs, and reflexology. Most of these require additional training to master these massage techniques.
The increasing number of spas and massage clinics in recent years underscores a growing demand for massage services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects massage therapist employment growth of 22.6 percent between 2012 and 2022, adding 30,000 more professionals to this field. The BLS reports the median annual wage to be $36,000 with 10% making in excess of $70,000.
As documented, this is an expanding vocation with an array of opportunities for those wishing to specialize in different massage techniques. It’s a physically demanding job as the therapist can spend hours on his/her feet. Mostly her feet, as 80% of massage therapists are female, according to the AMTA.
Furthermore, there are avenues to pursue in complementary professions: physical therapist assistant or athletic trainer. The former requires an associate’s degree and the latter position requires a bachelor’s degree. Both offer excellent job growth according to the BLS at 41% and 21% respectively.