Introduction to Massage Therapy and Massage Therapy Schools

Massage therapy has been in practice for over 4,000 years; however, it was only recently that the masses found out about its other benefits that have given a big boost to its popularity.

Massage therapy can be used for several purposes, such as a preventive measure to maintain body health. It is considered a great substitute to hospitals due to which more and more Americans are now opting for regular massage therapy as a mean to relieve pain, improve blood circulation, and help control blood pressure.

With more than 47 million Americans getting a massage every week, certified massage therapists are in great demand all over the United States with new entrants being absorbed into the industry every day. Massage therapy schools, universities and community colleges offer courses that enable students to take up massage therapy as a full-time career.

The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) projects a growth rate of 20% in massage therapy jobs in the next few years. The median salary of a massage therapist is around $35,000 with highs in the $60,000 range and lows in the 18,000 range. This clearly shows the potential this industry holds.

If you want to be a massage therapist, you need to take a 3 step route that is explained below.

The 3 steps are:

  • Enrolling and completing a massage therapy training course (500+ hours)
  • Taking the necessary board certification exams
  • Taking the necessary state level exams

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage Therapy involves rubbing, kneading, compressing, holding, and other techniques applied to the muscular and the soft tissue of the body to relieve symptoms such as:

  • Muscle strains and pains due to over use
  • General stress
  • Lack of blood circulation
  • Lack of Lymphatic circulation and inflammation
  • Rehabilitation of stiff joints after an injury
  • Migraines
  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Back pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Chronic pain

The benefits of this therapy include lowering of blood pressure, a relaxed nervous system, lowering of heart rate, better concentration, loosening of tightened muscles, and better sleep.

It will not be entirely wrong to state that this therapy works on your whole body and allows you to feel fresh and energized to take on the hustle and bustle of life.

Importance of Your Physical Fitness

Massage therapy is physically very demanding. Your own fitness will play a crucial role in providing excellent massage services. An over use of hands and thumbs result in injuries that burn out even the best of therapists.

It is important to learn the art and to stretch yourself to keep your body in shape. Resting and taking care of your body will ensure a lengthy career in this lucrative industry.

How to Decide on a Good School

Of the many massage therapy schools, which one is the best for you? The first stop is to decide which state you want to be working in. Every state has different requirements as to the number of training hours required to practice and the different certification exams that need to be taken.

When evaluating a school, look at the faculty conducting the courses. Are they certified themselves? Do they have experience in the industry?  Is the school accredited by NCBTMB  or by similar Boards that are widely recognized in this industry? These questions are important as they will help you determine the school’s credibility.

Other questions include the modality of courses they offer as part of their curriculum. More modality courses mean a greater depth of understanding of various forms of massage therapy. This will train you to be a better and more well rounded massage therapist.

Earning Your Massage Certification

Certification in massage therapy is your key into the job market. You may learn a lot from experience but will find it difficult to make a name in the industry until you have your formal certification to practice.

With over 200 techniques and 80 specialties, massage therapy schools offer curricula you can choose to concentrate on what appeals to you most. Some  popular specialties include deep tissue massage, sports and orthopedic massage etc. Certification requirements vary from state to state, but usually you will need approximately 500-600 hours of training towards your certification.

Local community colleges and universities also offer courses that prepare you to take the state exams to begin practicing legally. Massage therapy schools offer Associate level degrees that take about 20 months to complete. At the end of the course, you will get one general certificate of competence and one specialty certificate.

The certification is provided by the NCBTMB (National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork), which is recognized in 38 states and the District of Columbia. NCBTMB also provides a list of colleges and massage therapy schools that are accredited by them all over the United States.

A Typical Massage Therapy Curriculum

Massage therapy schools have curricula that include six broad categories of courses:

  • The structure of the human body (anatomy, physiology and nutrition courses)
  • Hands on experience (clinical experience in varied settings)
  • How to tailor a massage therapy for individual clients
  • Courses on handling the business side of your practice
  • Courses covering legal and ethical issues
  • Courses covering cultural aspects and communication

The modality courses included are therapeutic sports massage, Swedish massage, aromatherapy, connective tissue therapy, deep tissue therapy, hydrotherapy and neuromuscular therapy. These courses will also help you decide which part of massage therapy you want to take up as a profession.

The curriculum also includes courses in spa training. These teach you how to run a spa, like maintaining a customer database, appointments, and integrating different modalities that are offered as products. This is good training if you want to own your own spa business someday.

State To State Variations

Different states have different requirements to practice massage therapy with varying costs for licenses. For example, Massachusetts requires 650 hours of education and needs no certificate exams with a $225 to apply for a license.

New York requires 1,000 hours of education, with a license cost of $108 plus you need to take the state exam. The state of Texas needs only 500 hours from an approved school but it needs the NCBTMB exam and the Jurisprudence exams to be passed as well.

To find a complete list of state requirements click here.

Costs of Completing a Massage Therapy Program

Whether it’s a university, a community college or any of the massage therapy schools, the tuition costs will range from $5,500 to $6,500.

You will have to shell out $65 or so for Student Liability Insurance, $350 for textbooks and another $100 for the standard classroom kit. Essential oils for aromatherapy range from $30 and upwards. Most states require a course in CPR that will cost another $40.

All in you’re looking at a total cost of roughly $6,000-$7,000.

Life After Schooling

It is important to select massage therapy schools that are accredited by NCBTMB or FSMTB (Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards), a similar organization like the NCBTMB. The total cost of an Associate level degree program or equivalent will run $7,000 on an average which includes tuition and books. The course takes about 20 months to complete.

Most students take up jobs as massage therapists after school. If you feel like you are ready to own your own massage therapy practice, it is still a good idea to first work in a job as a therapist before starting your own business.

If business is your goal, you may want to consider joining a private company (business) that offers massage therapy where you can witness the business side of the operations as well. Many who aspire to own and run their own spas join one after graduation from school as spas are a great way to get to know the business side as well while building your reputation as a sought after massage therapist.


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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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