Massage therapists

What Massage Therapists Do

Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the soft-tissues of the body. With their touch, therapists relieve pain, help rehabilitate injuries, improve circulation, relieve stress, increase relaxation, and aid in the general wellness of clients.

Duties

Massage therapists typically do the following:

  • Talk with clients about symptoms, medical history, and desired results
  • Evaluate clients to locate painful or tense areas of the body
  • Manipulate muscles or other soft tissues of the body
  • Provide clients with guidance on stretching, strengthening, overall relaxation, and how to improve their posture
  • Document client’s condition and progress

Massage therapists use touch to treat clients’ injuries and to promote general wellness. They use their hands, fingers, forearms, elbows, and sometimes feet to knead muscles and soft tissues of the body.

Massage therapists may use lotions and oils and massage tables or chairs, when treating a client. A massage can be as short as 5–10 minutes or could last more than an hour.

Therapists talk with clients about what they hope to achieve through massage. Some massage therapists suggest personalized treatment plans for their clients. They also may offer clients information about additional relaxation techniques to practice between sessions. 

Massage therapists can specialize in many different types of massage, called modalities. Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, and sports massage are just a few of the many modalities of massage therapy. Most massage therapists specialize in several modalities, which require different techniques.

Usually, the type of massage given depends on the client’s needs and physical condition. For example, therapists may use a special technique for elderly clients that they would not use for athletes. Some forms of massage are given solely to one type of client; for example, prenatal massage is given to pregnant women.

Massage therapists who are self-employed may need to do business-related tasks such as marketing and maintaining financial records. They also may have to buy supplies and do laundry.

How to Become a Massage Therapist

Massage therapists typically complete a postsecondary education program of 500 or more hours of study and experience, although standards and requirements vary greatly by state or other locality. Most states regulate massage therapy and require massage therapists to have a license or certification.

Education

Educational standards and requirements for massage therapists vary greatly by state or other locality. Education programs are typically found in private or public postsecondary institutions. Most programs require at least 500 hours of study to complete; some programs require 1,000 hours or more.

A high school diploma or equivalent degree is usually required for admission. Massage therapy programs generally include both classroom study and hands-on practice of massage techniques. Programs cover subjects such as anatomy; physiology, which is the study of organs and tissues; kinesiology, which is the study of motion and body mechanics; pathology, which is the study of disease; business management; and ethics.

Programs may concentrate on certain modalities, or specialties, of massage. Several programs also offer job placement and continuing education. Both full-time and part-time programs are available.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In 2012, 44 states and the District of Columbia regulated massage therapy. Although not all states license massage therapy, they may have regulations at the local level.

In states with massage therapy regulations, workers must get a license or certification after graduating from an approved program and before practicing massage. Passing an exam is usually required for licensure.

The exam may be solely a state exam or one of two nationally recognized tests: the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB). Massage therapy licensure boards decide which certifications and tests to accept on a state-by-state basis.

Therapists also may need to pass a background check and be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Many states require massage therapists to complete continuing education credits and to renew their license periodically. Those wishing to practice massage therapy should look into legal requirements for the state and other locality in which they intend to practice.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Massage therapists need to listen carefully to clients in order to understand what they want to achieve through massage sessions.

Decision-making skills. Massage therapists must evaluate each client’s needs and recommend the best treatment on the basis of that person’s needs.

Empathy. Massage therapists must give clients a positive experience, which requires building trust between therapist and client. Making clients feel comfortable is necessary for therapists to expand their client base.

Physical stamina. Massage therapists may give several treatments during a workday and have to stay on their feet throughout massage appointments.

Physical strength and dexterity. Massage therapists must be strong and able to exert pressure through a variety of movements of the arms and hands when manipulating a client’s muscles.

Job Outlook

Massage Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Other healthcare support occupations

23%

Massage therapists

23%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Continued growth in the demand for massage services will lead to new openings for massage therapists.

As an increasing number of states adopt licensing requirements and standards for therapists, the practice of massage is likely to be respected and accepted by more people as a way to treat pain and to improve overall wellness. Similarly, as more healthcare providers understand the benefits of massage, demand will increase as these services become part of treatment plans.

Massage also offers specific benefits to particular groups of people whose continued demand for massage services will lead to overall growth for the occupation. For example, some sports teams hire massage therapists to help give their athletes relief from pain and to rehabilitate clients with injuries.

Demand for massage services will grow as the baby-boom generation seeks these services as a way to help maintain their health as they age. Older people in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities also are finding benefits from massage, such as increased energy levels and reduced health problems. Demand for massage therapy should grow among older age groups because they increasingly are enjoying longer, more active lives.

In addition, the number of massage clinic franchises has increased in recent years. Many franchised clinics offer more affordable massages than those provided at spas and resorts, making massage services available to a wider range of customers.

However, demand for massage services may be limited by overall state of the economy. During tough economic times, both the number of people who seek massage therapy and the frequency of their massages may decline.

Job Prospects

In states that regulate massage therapy, opportunities should be available to those who complete formal programs and pass a professionally recognized exam. However, new massage therapists should expect to work only part time until they can build their own client base.

Because referrals are an important source of work for massage therapists, marketing and networking will increase the number of job opportunities. Joining a professional association also can help build strong contacts and further increase the likelihood of steady work.

It may also be helpful for massage therapists who are seeking to attract new clients to complete education programs in specific modalities.

Employment projections data for Massage Therapists, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Massage therapists

31-9011 132,800 162,800 23 30,000
  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
Physical therapist assistants and aides Physical therapist assistants and aides

Physical therapist assistants (sometimes called PTAs) and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.'

Associate's degree $39,430
Physical therapists Physical therapists Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries.' Doctoral or professional degree $79,860
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Ref: bls.gov
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