Different Types of Courses in Massage Therapy Schools & Continuing Education Choices

Massage therapy schools differ widely in the number and makeup of courses offered. Whether you attend a local massage therapy school, an online massage therapy school, a community college, or a university for your diploma or certification the courses offered will be dependent on whether you are attending their short program or long program, and whether your State requires a minimum amount of hands-on training and State licensing.

All of these differences determine how much or how little classroom hours you will need in order to accomplish the requirements in your specific location. This article will cover the main coursework that should be included in any quality educational Institute offering massage therapist certification, as well as explain some of the other types of courses available for continuing education purposes as you diversify your skill set over time.

Coursework

There can be a wide range of difference in the courses that are offered even between accredited schools offering certification programs. For example: some schools offer training in business basics including computers, accounting, marketing, and operations of a massage therapy business. While others focus on the various other specific massage training courses and hands on training.

An all-encompassing education includes the main categories of courses listed below whereas average or subpar programs will only offer basic courses with a focus on massage training and a basic hands-on practicum required for certification and licensing.

Institutions that offer focused training in the areas of spa or sports medicine massage will include more options for electives at a granular level within each subset of the massage specialty you choose.

Medical Massage Courses

The best schools will start with the basics. The basics should include introductory courses to anatomy, healthcare concepts, physiology, and general Eastern and Western massage techniques.

These courses, although not always offered, provide a solid foundation for building a complete education and understanding of a massage therapy career. Without these introductory offerings a student can sometimes flounder and have trouble with the specific concepts surrounding medical diagnosis for medical massage, health and relaxation for spa and wellness, and physiology awareness for sports therapeutic massage.

A school that does not help you understand basic human physiology, anatomy, and how massage helps the human body in mind and therapy will likely fail at the later stages of education.

Read this for a detailed discussion about medical massage therapy.

Business Courses

Many massage therapists end up either in quasi-managerial positions or owning their own business. Without basic business ownership and operations courses that enable you to understand the importance of accounting, marketing, and hiring and maintaining employees your career as a massage therapist may be better placed in an institution or company where you remain an employee.

A great program will get you ready to run your own business successfully or be able to step into another company and manage their massage therapy program effectively. Without proper business training it would be unwise to open your own clinic or spa and would be difficult to step into a managerial position and be successful.

Specific Modality Courses

Modality courses offer specific types or techniques of massage that you will learn in order to practice massage therapy as a profession. Different schools offer various ‘base’ modality sets.

Most schools offer 4-10 modalities as part of their programs and usually include 1 of the following 10 most popular massage modalities. Remember there are over 80 modalities and you will want proficiency in at least 5 and up to 10 throughout your career.

You don’t have to learn everything in school. Continuing education requirements for board certified practitioners offer these courses as well. You can continue to build your skill set over time as you progress in your career.

Swedish Massage

This is the most popular type of massage in the United States and is also the first and most common technique taught in almost any school. It uses long smooth strokes, kneading, and circular motions on superficial muscles with oil or lotion.

Aromatherapy Massage

This type of massage applies natural essential oils during massage to help reduce stress, offer relaxation, and energize or balance a person’s mood. The most common type of essential oil used is lavender.

Hot Stone Massage

Smooth heated stones are placed on certain muscle groups to help relieve muscle tension. This type of massage is the best for people that prefer gentle massage and have increased muscle tension.

Deep Tissue Massage

This type of massage targets deep muscle and connective tissue. It uses slower strokes across the muscle grain to achieve a more intense and deeper massage. It is meant for chronically tight or painful muscles, recovery from injury, or postural issues.

Shiatsu

This is a Japanese technique that uses finger pressure in rhythm on acupuncture points.  It is firm yet relaxing and most are surprised the first time they receive a shiatsu massage that there is no soreness afterwards.

Thai Massage

This type of technique is similar to shiatsu in aligning the energies of the body by using pressure on specific points but adds compression and stretches into the mix. The practitioner moves and stretches you in different positions like yoga without the work.

Reflexology

Although sometimes confused with a simple foot massage reflexology applies pressure to different points on the foot that correspond to various major organs in the body. It can be very relaxing for those people that stand on their feet all day long.

Pregnancy Massage

Pregnancy and infant massage has grown in popularity and includes a relaxing and stress reducing massage for pregnant mothers to reduce pain and fatigue. It can also reduce swelling, pain and anxiety or depression.

Back Massage

Most of the tension built up at work or by sitting in a chair is usually felt in the lower and upper back regions. Most spas offer a 30 minute back massage, however patients and clients can book a longer massage session and ask the therapist to focus on the back.

Sports Massage

This type of massage is specifically designed for those active in physical sports. The focus is not on relaxation but on preventing muscle strain and injury by stretching muscles and increasing flexibility.

Other Types of Massage

With over 80 different modalities available to learn from throughout your career as a massage therapist you have the ability to continually upgrade your skills and knowledge in massage.

Other very popular modalities include Reiki, acupressure, Indian head massage, neuromuscular massage, myofascial and several others. Most often other modalities are learned as a requirement or part of your continuing education units needed for State licensing.

A plethora of massage therapy courses are offered as part of any comprehensive program that includes hands-on practicum to ensure adequate skill are garnered before entering the workforce.

It is important you understand the different types of courses in massage therapy schools that are available to you, and take the ones that are consistent with your career objectives. Remember that you do not have to take and master all of the courses while you’re in school or right after.

You can take up a new course or two with each subsequent year in form of continuing education as you progress in your career as a massage therapist. Over the years, your skill set will increase and become more diversified, which will open new doors of opportunity for you in your career.


Want to Multitask? Watch this article in video format or simply play it in the background and listen to it while you work away

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+

Posted in Continuing Education (CE), Courses - Specialties
4 comments on “Different Types of Courses in Massage Therapy Schools & Continuing Education Choices
  1. I didn’t realize there were so many different varieties of massage courses! Thank you for providing such a great list of the different types and the differences between them. We keep telling my sister that she should take some massage courses because she just seems to have a natural talent for it and really enjoys learning about how it helps the body. I’ll definitely have to show her this list! I’m betting she’ll be leaning toward the shiatsu or Thai massage since they are more focused on the health aspect of massage.

    • Neal Lyons says:

      glad you found the list helpful Georgia. please let us know your sister’s reaction after reading the list and what you/she decides to do with massage going forward. please reach out at any time if there is anything we can do. we are here to help.

  2. Miranda Scholes says:

    hi,you mentioned there were over 80 different modalities. do you have a comprehensive list?

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