Massage therapy is an increasingly common component of many people's overall wellness regimen. Massage therapists have become respected partners in the field of health care and rehabilitation.
If your image of massage therapy is be limited to a dimly lit, aromatherapy-filled day spa, you might be surprised to discover that the field of massage and bodywork is actually very diverse. From craniosacral therapy to Thai massage, there are many ways you can specialize your massage practice.
Massage therapy schools will teach you the basics of bodywork with courses like anatomy and physiology, kinesiology (the study of motion), and pathology (the study of disease). You may also get the basics of running a small business, from accounting to marketing. Where you take your education from there is largely up to you.
Massage therapy specializations
There are numerous kinds of massage therapy and bodywork, called modalities. You may choose to focus on one kind of practice, like craniosacral therapy, or to incorporate a number of modalities into your practice, like Swedish massage, trigger point therapy, acupressure or deep-tissue massage.
Massage therapists can choose to specialize in a certain areas of the body. For example, there are massage therapists who are experts in treating backs or hips or feet.
Your client base is another way to specialize in massage therapy. Some practitioners work solely or partially with specific populations, like the elderly or pregnant woman.
Where massage therapists work can also be a specialty. For example, some may work within a rehabilitation clinic and focus solely on helping people heal from injury, while others may work for an athletic team and specialize in sports massage.
Massage therapy certifications and degrees
The College Board reports that many community colleges now offer associate degrees in massage therapy. Massage therapy schools also offer non-diploma training. Both paths can lead to state or national certification and will generally include a combination of classroom work and hands-on practice. To become licensed, massage therapists must complete a minimum 500 hours of study. To become board certified, the minimum educational requirement is 750 hours.
Most states, forty-four to be exact, regulate the practice of massage therapy. In those that due not, regulations may exist at the local level. Before you enroll in massage therapy school, it can be helpful to know your state's regulations. Two organizations offer nationally recognized certifications:
- The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork offers two national certification exams, the NCETM and the NCETMB.
- The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards offers the MBLEx.
Continuing education can allow massage therapists to become certified in specific modalities or for work with specific populations, such as prenatal massage.
Massage therapy salary and career outlook
If you are considering entering massage therapy school, it is important to understand your salary and career potential after graduation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), massage therapists earned national median salaries of $35,920 in May 2013. Salaries and wages can vary greatly within the field. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $20,000, while the top 10 percent earned over $71,020. The three top-paying states for massage therapists in 2013 were Alaska, New York and Oregon.
Once you graduate massage therapy school, will there be jobs available? According to the BLS, there will be promising opportunities for those with formal training and national certification. Overall growth of massage therapy is predicted to rise 23 percent through 2022, which is much faster than average. This growth is due in part to a growing acceptance of massage therapy by "traditional" health care providers. Massage therapists have become respected partners for treating injuries and working with patients with special needs, including the geriatric patients.
So, jobs are out there, but where will they be? The BLS notes the three states with the highest employment level are California, Florida and Texas. Projections Central predicts the greatest job growth for massage therapists will be found in:
- Washington: 47.8 percent
- Utah: 37.6 percent
- Virginia: 35.2 percent
Building your massage therapy practice
For new massage therapists, building up a client base can be the biggest challenge. Massage therapy schools often teach students the basics of marketing and advertising. Networking and referrals, too, help to build up your client base. The BLS suggests specializing and training in specific modalities can improve your chances for a successful career in massage therapy.
Massage Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm
Massage Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htmhttp://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319011.htm
Massage Therapists, Projections Central, Long-Term Projections, http://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm