Massage Therapy Job Description

Massage therapist using pressure to relieve pain and muscle tension.  Massage therapists are one of the oldest known healthcare professions.

Massage therapist using pressure to relieve pain and muscle tension.  Massage therapists are one of the oldest known healthcare professions.

Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the soft-tissue muscles of the body and have been around longer than many healthcare jobs. Physicians have been recommending massage therapy for over 2000 years. Nearly 2,400 years ago the medical benefits of “friction” were first documented in Western culture by the Greek physician Hippocrates around 400 BC.

The modern massage therapy job description includes being used as a means of treating painful ailments, decompressing tired and overworked muscles, reducing stress, rehabilitating sports injuries, and promoting general health. This is accomplished by manipulating a client’s soft tissues in order to improve the body’s circulation and remove waste products from the muscles.

Massage therapy can be done to provide medical treatment, relaxation and for the soothing benefits. There are over 80 "schools" or styles of massage ranging from Swedish to Japanese. Also known as Reflexology or acupressure the average massage may be for only 5 minutes or 2 hours. The average session is approximately 30 minute to 1 hour.

Working Environment

Massage therapists work in an array of settings both private and public: private offices, studios, hospitals, nursing homes, fitness centers, sports medicine facilities, airports, and shopping malls, for example. Some massage therapists also travel to clients’ homes or offices to provide a massage. It is not uncommon for full-time massage therapists to divide their time among several different settings, depending on the clients and locations scheduled.

Self-employed massage therapists usually work by appointment. They take a brief history and may do a brief exam to ensure the client does not have medical conditions that would contra-indicate therapy.

Massage therapy is given with the hands and requires long hours of standing. The typical therapist works less than 40 hours a week.

Education and Training

There are roughly 1,300 massage therapy postsecondary schools, college programs, and training programs throughout the country. Massage therapy programs generally cover subjects such as anatomy; physiology, the study of organs and tissues; kinesiology, the study of motion and body mechanics; business; ethics; as well as hands-on practice of massage techniques.

Most formal training programs require an application and some require an in-person interview. Training programs may concentrate on certain modalities of massage. Several programs also provide alumni services such as post-graduate job placement and continuing educational services. Both full- and part-time programs are available.

These programs vary in accreditation. Massage therapy training programs are generally accredited by a State board or other accrediting agency. Of the many massage therapy programs in the country, about 300 are accredited by a State board or department of education-certified accrediting agency. In States that regulate massage therapy, graduation from an approved school or training program is usually required in order to practice massage therapy.

Licensing and Credentialing

Training standards and requirements for massage therapists vary greatly by State and locality. In 2004, 33 States and the District of Columbia had passed laws regulating massage therapy in some way.

Most of the boards governing massage therapy in these States require practicing massage therapists to complete a formal education program and pass the national certification examination or a State exam. Some State regulations require that therapists keep up on their knowledge and technique through continuing education. It is best to check information on licensing, certification, and accreditation on a State-by-State basis.

After completion of a training program, many massage therapists opt to take the national certification examination for therapeutic massage and bodywork. This exam is administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), which has eligibility requirements of its own.

Several States require that a massage therapist pass this test in order to practice massage therapy. In States that require massage therapy program accreditation, an exam candidate must graduate from a State-licensed training institute with at least 500 hours of training or submit a portfolio of training experience for NCBTMB review.

Important Points

Employment is expected to grow faster than average as more people learn about the benefits of massage therapy.

Many States require formal training and a national certification in order to practice massage therapy.

This occupation contains a large number of part-time and self-employed workers.

The massage therapy job description includes a wide variety of techniques and can include adjunctive therapy such as aromatherapy or sound therapy.

Career Progression

Because of the nature of massage therapy, opportunities for advancement are limited. However, with increased experience and an expanding client base, there are opportunities for therapists to increase client fees, and therefore income.

Both strong communication skills and a friendly, empathetic personality are extremely helpful qualities for fostering a trusting relationship with clients and in turn, expanding one’s client base. In addition, those who are well organized and have an entrepreneurial spirit may even go into business for themselves. Self-employed massage therapists with a large client base have the highest earnings. 

Resources for Massage Therapist Job Description:

Massage Therapist  Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition.

American Massage Therapy Association

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