3 Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Massage Therapist

What should you know before you become a Massage Therapist?

What are the benefits and the possible disadvantages of advancing your career in Massage therapy?

What are the physical and mental demands? What about continuing education requirements?

These are just some of the questions that need to be answered before you decide on a life long career choice.

This article will delve into some of the important considerations you must think through to ensure you are fully aware of what’s to come.

Physical Rigors and Demands

One of the most underrated considerations (which later turn into objections) in becoming a massage therapist is the physical rigor involved in the profession. Imagine kneading dough for 6 to 8 hours a day? Could you keep up with that pace indefinitely? That’s exactly how it feels on the hands and joints.

The burn out rate within the industry has been estimated at 50 to 88% within the first 3 to 5 years after graduation according to a study completed by Associated Bodyword and Massage Professionals, a reputable industry organization. Enrollment statistics seem to support this with over 50,000 students enrolling per year with 45,000 that leave the field annually.

The burn out rate is high mainly due to improper techniques being applied and not enough rest in between massages. If you are expected to massage 40 hours per week, it is almost guaranteed that you will burn out in a very short amount of time.

The best schools advise that you work 4-6 hours a day in massage and take at the very least 10 minute breaks between every massage. The physical damage that can accumulate by over working your body include tendonitis in the wrists, elbows and shoulders, carpel tunnel in the wrists, tennis elbow and trigger finger/thumb. All of these injuries can quickly end your career if you are not careful.

It is important to develop the ability to keep healthy and fit over the long term. You may consider questions like: Do you like to work out? Do you eat healthy? Are you currently overweight or have weight gain issues?

These can exacerbate any problems you encounter later on due to the physical demands of the job. If you cannot keep fit, you may want to choose a different, less rigorous profession.

Professionalism, Behavior and Demeanor

The massage therapy profession is unique in the sense that it initially developed from the traditions of mental and spiritual health and not as a medically advanced profession. However, in recent years medical massage is used to heal muscle tension and injuries of all sorts. Most consumers of massage therefore expect both spiritual wellness as well as physical wellness.

As a good therapist, you need to constantly stay upbeat and positive with all your clients at all times. In addition to requiring a gruelling physical workout, dealing with a constant stream of patient and client demands requires mental health and stamina.

Needless to say that in order to succeed in this profession you need to be mentally tough, stable and ensure your own long term mental health. To discount this aspect would lead to a declining client base and the failure of your business or job loss.

Continued Education Requirements

With the professionalization of the massage therapy industry, continued learning and education has become a mandatory long term requirement if you want to continue to be licensed and practice massage.

States post a minimum amount of “Continuing Education Units” required to maintain your massage license. These CEU’s can range anywhere from 8 to 48 hours of yearly education. You can find your specific State requirements here.

Just like being a lawyer, doctor or an accountant, this profession is not for anyone who never wants or expects to look back to school after graduation. In these professions, learning is a career long process. For a massage therapist, continuous learning can help specialize in various massage techniques, often referred to as modalities.

An expansion of your skill set can lead to bigger and better opportunities down the road.

Advantages

One of the more attractive aspects of this profession is the income (whether a salary as an employee or profits as a business owner) you can earn relative to the time and resources you  invest in your training to become a therapist. Salaries in the massage industry has been on the rise due to the sheer demand for the services, the professionalization of the industry and recognition by insurance companies as a health treatment for certain injuries.

Another advantage can be flexibility. As a home-based business or travelling massage therapist the profession can provide extreme flexibility for a second income earner in the home. It allows you to take on the amount of hours you need to earn the income you desire. In addition, you design your work schedule around your personal schedule. For specific types of individuals, this can be a very rewarding and fulfilling career.

If you decide to choose a traditional workplace setting you can be assured that your services will be in demand and that you will be busy. The increase in demand for clinical settings for massage therapists and the current burn out rate ensures quick placement in the workforce. Traditional settings also offer higher pay rates initially. And as an employee, you can rest assure that you will not have to deal with the daily operations requirements of running a business.

Disadvantages

The biggest disadvantage is inherent in the profession, in the sense that if you were to stop practicing massage in just a few years after graduation, you will have spent a significant amount of time and resources in becoming a licensed therapist in the first place.

That said, if you approach your job knowing the physical demands involved and accordingly taking steps to manage them, you should be fine. There are thousands (probably millions worldwide) of people that stay in the industry for decades.  These folks have learned the right way to apply themselves within the profession, manage their schedules effectively and take good care of their body to avoid repetitive strain injuries.

Development of professionalism and the mindset required to make it in this profession are not a true disadvantage as these are demanded in many other professions today. It is, however, newer to the massage profession and thus many therapists discount their importance. Now that you know, we hope you wouldn’t make the same mistake.

Lastly, the CEU credits you are required to obtain each year can be a bit of a continued drain on your time and resources, but if considered wisely can actually increase your earnings while maintaining your license at the same time.

Varying activities can qualify for credits, including conferences, webinars and various other training seminars. Additional CEUs have several benefits, mainly the expansion of your scope and business. If you are a sole practitioner, you can offer newer services to your existing clients, or attract new clients. As a business owner, you could add extra (newer) services to your business to do the same.

If you are ready to take the next step toward a brighter future, use our database below to search for massage therapy schools near you. We have an arrangement with all of them that allow you to request information for FREE.  Please do so and take that first step toward a better future.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

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13 comments on “3 Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Massage Therapist
  1. Jen says:

    hi
    I had a question. I am going into a spa massage therapy course early next year I also love to stay fit and am an avid kickboxer. I was told by many that I will have to give it up so I won’t risk hurting my hands. Ive come to terms with that but was wondering what else I could do to keep my body in good shape that won’t injure me and prevent me from working. I occasionally do yoga and will probably do it more.is it really necessary I give up kickboxing? Even hitting a heavy bag a few times a week?

    • Neal Lyons says:

      Jen – not completely. there are ways to balance out both. we have 2-3 very good articles on self care and caring for your hands and your back when considering a career in massage. have you searched our site for these articles? you will get some very good information in these.

  2. Angela says:

    I have been an MT for 10 years working in the spa industry, right out of school. I’ve had a very successful and rewarding career. However at year 5, I know it was time to transition and find a new career from how drained I was feeling. I continued because it was easy and the pay was great. At year 8, I got injured. Wrist strain and inflammation. Did PT. I took some time off, about 8 months, to research other careers. After having a hard dime finding work in another field, I decided to go back to work for a spa for some money part time. My body is now hurting again. I’m working 3 days a week only 3 clients a day, but it still feels like too much. I think I need to scale down to 2 days a week and find a new job asap. Anything. I would give anything to not feel so sore and achey all the time. I think my body is telling game it’s time to get out. I did feel so much better after that 8 month break and was missing the work. I’d like to be able to do it only on the side, as a supplement, maybe 2-4 massages a month max. It’s really humbling and scary, financially. I turn 40 next month. I really love this work and feel it’s one of my gifts, however I don’t want to feel this way in my body anymore. I want to feel good in my body. I want to feel great in my body. I just think it may be time to venture into the unknown. Work at a grocery store while I go back to school. I am a trained dancer so I know how to stretch and move. Even with that, it has taken it’s toll. I feel a strange guilt, like I shouldn’t be feeling this way, like somehow I’ve failed. But I don’t regret doing this profession. I’m just sorry it’s not something I can continue in a regular way. Thx for reading.:)

    • Neal Lyons says:

      Angela, thank you for sharing your story with us and our readership. Please let us know how we can help.

    • I’ve been in the massage & bodywork field for 35 years. Some of my work requires exerting fairly strong, sustained pressure on specific muscle for relatively long periods of time with little movement. However, I do believe in not forcing tissues, and waiting for each layer of muscle to release before going down to deeper layers. My clients, including many massage therapists, often express amazement at my endurance over all these years, rarely getting “bunt out.” …

      Yet I incorporate a *No Pain, MORE Gain* philosophy (it’s easier to open the door before you try to walk through it), so I’m never exerting enough pressure to hurt the client, which also prevents me from stressing my own joints & muscles as much as some therapists do. (I monitor the pressure in my joints to feel if they are getting too compressed. That is easier having done MANY hours of yoga over the years, which increases your ability to feel such things.)

      Ironically, word has it that I get deeper into the tissues than do the so-called “deep tissue therapists,” and I stay in and treat those tissues longer because the client is not resisting. (And you can’t peel an onion from the inside out!) I use the same approach with my own self treatments.

      The few times I’ve had “tissue issues” with my arms & hands, or shoulders or neck, I resolved it with either yoga stretching (of which there are many several specific stretches, a few of which I adopted & adapted from Aikido stretching, and you don’t usually see much of in yoga texts), or self treatment with hands-on therapy; the same technique I use with clients. In yoga, similar to my hands-on approach, I use a very long, slow, gradual, and very specific stretching technique, also with the No Pain, More Gain approach.

      What has been SHOCKING to me is how many massage therapists do not seem to be able to resolve their own pain issues. And I participated in beginning massage school classes recently and was shocked that the school instructors were unable to provide relief for so many of the problems of the students!

      But if they DO receive or use massage therapy, it’s usually cross fiber, stripping, heat or icing, etc., and frequently very painful. I don’t do any of that. If it’s below the elbow (for example), I (usually) find the muscle in the forearm that controls the bones in the hand or fingers (or passes through the wrist and is irritated there) and do the slow, steady pressure treatment on the hardest, tightest spots in the relevant muscle bellies in the forearm.

      Of course, sometimes it’s an irritated brachial plexus and the scalenes need releasing. But it seems a lot of therapists are afraid of treating the scalenes too thoroughly. I even treated one NMT practitioner whose trigger points for her wrist pain (pseudo-carpal tunnel) were in her lateral abdominal wall!

      You never know where you’re going to find the originating trigger areas! It often takes a lot of exploration to find them.

      For about a year and a half, I worked almost exclusively on musicians (mostly cello, violin & viola, and some pianists) in the Boston area with severe, potentially career-ending pains in elbows, arms or hands, or shoulder girdle and neck. Many of them had been going to a physical therapy group specializing in musician’s problems. I observed some of their treatment sessions. The PTs were using in PT (heat, ice, TENS, etc.) and also trained (somewhat surprisingly) using neuromuscular therapy and myofascial release, as well as the slide & glide stroking and stripping.

      Again, I was amazed that these PTs never got deep enough into the layers of muscle, nor did they spend enough time with specific pressure on specific “hard spots” (musculo-fascial “knots”) in any of the muscles to get deep enough. (Although at least there WERE working some in the forearms, which many hand therapist do NOT, many only focusing on the hand itself, apparently not realizing MOST of the power generated in the hands is actually from the forearms.)

      It must also be acknowledged that some people have irritations in their skin & superficial fascia, requiring something similar to skin rolling (but not so aggressively it causes pain).

      Anyway, I believe MANY if not MOST of the musculoskeletal problems experienced by most therapists could be resolved with proper manual & stretching therapy. But I rarely meet a therapist who seems to know how to do the kind of work necessary to relax the chronic, excess muscle & nerve tension & stress (what I call C.E.M.&N.T.). …

      And although I recently took a 700 hour program from what supposed to be one of THE top therapeutic schools in the country, they NEVER addressed these issues to any significant degree. So massage school education might be lacking in this regard, although I only directly experienced one school as a full time student.

      • Neal Lyons says:

        thank you for taking valuable time and contributing your own life’s experience with us and our readers. we truly value your input and I am sure the readers have/will as well. we request you to please message us privately. we want to work with you to determine how we can best contribute to experiences such as yours. we have established relationships with various boards, professional organizations and schools. we would be happy to assist where we can. we look forward to your message.

  3. Adolf Hotson says:

    Thanks guys for a great post. I loved it. It is true that becoming a massage therapist is never easy. In my case I have to find proper training from the right massage therapist. After graduating I had to get certified and registered. There after I chose to join an established spa to get more practical experience. Before that I found massage therapy insurance and permit. Finally I chose to open up my personal massage therapy spa. Well I have seen quite a number of people doing the same and I must agree that finding a great location for your massage therapy parlor and a great business name will also count.

    • Neal Lyons says:

      Adolf – thank you for sharing your personal story and journey. aside from choosing the right location, what are the other top three factors you would say as the keys to a successful massage business? what were some of your struggles initially and how did you overcome them?

  4. Jessica says:

    I want to be come a massage therapist what do I need to become one? What are the best schools for this program? If anyone can answer theses plz do u would be helping me out a lot.

    • Neal Lyons says:

      Jessica, our website provides all sorts of articles that address your questions. please feel free to browse through. all the information is free. you will learn all about the requirements and which schools may be the best for you based on your learning preference and objectives

  5. I had never thought about kneading dough for hours and hours at a time — that sounds incredibly difficult. It only makes sense that the drop our rate would be so high! I often times find myself giving my brother in law massages everytime we see each other, and that alone is a difficult endeavor. Thanks for all the information!

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