Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the soft-tissue muscles of the body. With their touch, they relieve pain, rehabilitate injuries, reduce stress, increase relaxation, and aid in the general wellness of clients.
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Massage therapists typically do the following:
Massage therapists use their hands, fingers, forearms, elbows, and sometimes feet to knead muscles and soft tissue of the body to treat injuries and to promote general wellness. A massage can be as short as 5–10 minutes or could last more than an hour.
Therapists also may use lotions and oils, massage tables or chairs, and medical heat lamps when treating a client. They 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 typically complete a postsecondary education program that can require 500 hours or more of study and experience, although standards and requirements vary greatly by jurisdiction. A high school diploma or equivalent degree is usually required for admission. Most places regulate massage therapy and require massage therapists to have a license or certificate. Passing an exam is usually required for licensure.
Massage therapy programs generally cover subjects such as anatomy; physiology, which is the study of organs and tissues; kinesiology, which is the study of motion and body mechanics; business management; ethics; and the hands-on practice of massage techniques.
Training 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.
In states with massage therapy regulations, workers must get either a license or certification after graduating from an accredited training program and before practicing massage.
Those wishing to practice massage therapy should look into legal requirements for the place in which they intend to practice. A fee and periodic license renewal also may be required.
The majority of massage therapists were self-employed in 2010. Others worked mainly in personal care services and various healthcare industries. Many massage therapists work part time; only about 1 out of 4 worked full time in 2010.
Because therapists work by appointment in most cases, their schedules and the number of hours worked each week vary considerably. In addition to hours giving massages, therapists may also spend time recording patient notes, marketing, booking clients, washing linens, and other general business tasks.
Massage therapists work in an array of settings, both private and public, such as private offices, spas, hospitals, fitness centers, and shopping malls. Some massage therapists also travel to clients’ homes or offices to give a massage.
Most massage therapists, especially those who are self-employed, provide their own table or chair, sheets, pillows, and body lotions or oils.
A massage therapist's working conditions depend heavily on the location and what the client wants. For example, a massage meant to help rehabilitate an injury may be conducted in a well-lit setting with several other clients receiving treatment in the same room. But when giving a massage to help clients relax, massage therapists generally work in dimly lit settings and use candles, incense, and calm, soothing music.
Because massage is physically demanding, massage therapists can injure themselves if they do not use the proper techniques. Repetitive-motion problems and fatigue from standing for extended periods are most common. Therapists can limit these risks by using good techniques, spacing sessions properly, exercising and, in many cases, receiving a massage themselves regularly.
The median annual wage of massage therapists was $34,900 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $17,970, and the top 10% earned more than $69,000. Most massage therapists earn a combination of wages and tips.