A large percentage of massage therapists are self-employed or work part-time, which gives them flexibility in their schedules. Formal education and licensure is required in 42 states for this vocational career, and some states require the completion of continuing education credits for periodic recertification.
Massage therapy is the manipulation of soft tissue, including skin, muscles and connective tissue, to relieve pain and stiffness, to enhance the function of joints and to promote relaxation. For example, athletes use massage therapy to cross-train their muscles, and individuals with health conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia use the practice, along with yoga and other stretches, to reduce their need for pain medication.
Individuals in this profession work by appointment only. During a full-body massage, they keep the body covered with sheets or blankets except for the immediate portion of the body in which they are working at a given time. Lotions or oils are often used in the massage to warm up muscles and to reduce the chance of injury, although aromatherapy and thoughtful yoga music is often a therapeutic part of a massage. Lighting is also dim to help clients relax.
Prior to an appointment, a massage therapist will conduct a brief interview with a client to learn of any physical condition that may irritate or conflict with the massage. For example, if an individual has a sprained ankle, the therapist would likely avoid that ankle or else apply very light pressure to it.
This vocational career can be physically taxing, so it is important for individuals to stay physically fit and to practice massage techniques correctly. Most take breaks between appointments to relax their muscles and to prepare themselves physically and mentally for the next appointment.
Many massage techniques employ principles of Thai chi, a kind of martial art that uses balanced, sweeping motions. However, there are many different modalities, or types, of massage. Examples of massage modalities include Swedish, deep tissue and sports massages, as well as reflexology and acupressure.
The average entry-level wage for an individual in this profession is $20,400 annually, although they can excel to more than $86,000 annually depending on the state in which they practice. Figures are based on a full-time schedule, although a majority of individuals practice on a part-time basis. The highest concentration of workers practice in Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.
Massage therapist jobs are expected to increase in demand by almost 19 percent over the next 10 years, opening an estimated 39,500 jobs.
Individuals in this profession often receive training in more than one modality, and certain modalities, such as deep-tissue and reflexology, require additional expertise, and as a result, pay more per appointment. One of the most advanced kinds of massage therapy is myoskeletal alignment, which works with the actual shape of the fasciae, or sheaths, that hold muscles, ligaments and tendons to bones or organs in the body. By working to reshape the fasciae, they can improve posture and reduce pain over a period of time.
Many individuals in this profession pursue additional education in the medical field as a nurse, physical therapist or chiropractor.
Because building a clientele is necessary to establish more consistent appointments, being able to establish rapport with clients, as well as an environment of trust, is critical to this profession.
Individuals in this vocational career can work for a number of industries including personal care services (such as day spas), hotels, resorts or other amusement and recreation facilities, as well as offices of alternative health practitioners (including chiropractors). Some are placed on a facility's payroll, where others are self-employed and work on a contractual basis. Individuals who work on a contractual basis often work at a number of different facilities within their community, all on an appointment basis. Often, they work evenings, weekends and holidays to accommodate their clients' schedules. The purchase of equipment, including a portable massage table, is generally required.
Individuals in this profession are on their feet much of the time. They may or may not wear a uniform, but usually they wear non-descript clothing in dark colors that will allow them to move. They must be able to lift 50 pounds or more in order to lift and isolate certain parts of the body at one time.
Basic Office Skills Required
Individuals in this profession should have verbal communication and phone skills. English speaking proficiency is also important in order to ascertain medical conditions of clients and to establish a rapport with them.
The vocational career of a massage therapist, although physically taxing, can be a very rewarding profession. Nurturing individuals who enjoy serving and working with people do very well in this profession.
A Massage Therapist's Typical Work Day
Antoine chose to become a massage therapist when he pursued a career shift in his mid-30s. He liked the ability the vocational career path provided to get licensed and begin working fairly quickly while he continued to pursue additional education in the profession. The job is also a fit for him because he enjoys using his hands, and he enjoys helping people feel better.
Antoine became a believer in massage therapy 10 years ago when the practice helped him overcome a neck and shoulder injury that caused him chronic pain. He found that it is an excellent alternative to pain medications because of its ability to work with the body's natural healing abilities. Massage therapy removes toxins from the body by improving blood flow. It can also realign muscles to better support the skeletal structure, which can help with posture.
Presently, Antoine is trained as a traditional Swedish massage therapist, and he has some training in sports massage. He is also taking coursework at his massage school to learn reflexology of the feet to add to his tool belt in his vocational career. Between classes, he works on a contractual basis at two day spas in his community.
Prior to each massage, Antoine leaves at least 20 minutes to prepare himself physically and emotionally. He does stretches to loosen up his muscles, and he clears his mind so that he will be more sensitive to the needs of each client. Often he listens to relaxing massage music he has compiled for his sessions. He also takes the time to prepare the room, including preparing the sheets, blankets, towels, oils, and lotions he will use.
When he greets a client, he asks them a few questions to get an idea of what kind of massage they seek. He asks if there are any areas he should focus on or areas to avoid. He also asks what pressure level the client would prefer. The day spa also provides some information about his clients, including any notes the receptionist took when the client scheduled the appointment. Clients have the option of purchasing two different kinds of massages at the day spas he works with, including a relaxation massage as well as a deep tissue massage. Antoine uses all the information he gleans to help him better meet clients' needs.
Antoine performs massages in a clean, dimly lit room. He uses sweeping tai chi moves to balance the work on his own muscles but also to make sure that within the clients' muscles there is adequate clearing of toxins, particularly in the areas where he needs to do the most work. Antoine does some trigger point massage, which means he focuses on relieving knots and other centers of discomfort in the effort of improving overall functionality.
Over the six months that Antoine has been practicing as a massage therapist, he has developed a small clientele, which helps him to keep business more regular. He enjoys his vocational career path and plans to continue his education in the field in order to make himself more marketable.