What is a Massage Therapist?

Also known as: Medical Massage Therapist, Deep Tissue Massage Therapist, Clinical Massage Therapist, Registered Massage Therapist, Licensed Massage Practitioner, Certified Massage Therapist, Licensed Massage Therapist.

A massage therapist is someone who treats 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 their clients.

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What does a Massage Therapist do?

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 how to improve posture, stretching, strengthening, and overall relaxation

Massage therapists use their hands, fingers, forearms, elbows, and sometimes feet to knead muscles and soft tissue of the body in order to treat injuries and to promote general wellness. A massage can be as short as fifteen minutes or could last for more than an hour.

Massage therapists 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 or exercises 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 examples of modalities. 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.

How to become a Massage Therapist

Massage therapists typically complete a postsecondary education program that can require up to 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. 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.

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.

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.

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Further Reading

  • A Day in the Life Of: The Massage Therapist

    Let’s take a look at a day in the life of a massage therapist - from the flip side of the table.

  • What Does a Massage Therapist Do?

    A massage therapist is a professional who performs massage and bodywork. The field of massage therapy is quite large, running the gamut from therapists who perform basic Swedish massage to people trained in more esoteric fields like trigger point.

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