Massage therapist

A massage therapist


Massage therapists provide therapeutic massage treatments to improve the well-being of their clients. They perform a variety of massage types such as shiatsu and Swedish massage, according to their client’s needs and preferences.

Massage therapists typically do the following:

  • Massage soft body tissues to relieve discomfort and provide treatment for injuries, wellness maintenance or medical conditions.
  • Apply pressure to specific parts of the body with the hands and fingers to release muscle tension and bring relief from related symptoms.
  • Discuss client concerns, medical histories and specific stresses or pains to develop the most effective approach to massage treatment.
  • Travel to client homes as needed to provide professional massage services, or meet with clients in a professional setting.
  • Develop personalized treatment plans for individual clients that specify massage types, treatment areas and treatment frequency. Consult with chiropractors, physiotherapists, psychologists, physicians and other healthcare professionals for help with treatment plan development.
  • Propose final treatment plans to clients and implement them only after client acceptance and agreement.
  • Refer clients to other professionals and therapists when appropriate and necessary to treat additional symptoms.
  • Prepare oil blends for clients’ skin and perform other treatment techniques and therapies in addition to massage.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to massage therapist:

reflexology massage therapist
body massage therapist
professional masseur
clinical masseur
medical masseur
Thai massage therapist
deep tissue massage therapist
professional massage therapist
medical massage therapist
Swedish massage therapist
acupressure treatment specialist
shiatsu massage therapist

Working conditions

Some massage therapists travel to local events, clients’ homes or other sites. Others work out of their own homes. Massage therapists, especially those who are self-employed, may provide their own table or chair, sheets, pillows, and body lotions or oils.

Massage therapists’ working conditions vary. For example, some therapists provide relaxing massages in dimly lit settings and use candles, incense, and soothing music. Others offer rehabilitative massages in brightly lit clinical settings or at outdoor events.

Injuries and Illnesses

Because giving massages is physically demanding, massage therapists may injure themselves if they do not use proper technique. Repetitive-motion problems and fatigue from standing for extended periods are most common.

Therapists can limit these risks by using good body mechanics, spacing sessions properly, exercising, and receiving a massage regularly themselves.

Work Schedules

Part-time work is common for massage therapists. Because therapists usually work by appointment, their schedules and the number of hours worked each week vary considerably. Moreover, because of the strength and endurance needed to give a massage, many therapists cannot perform massage services 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.

Minimum qualifications

Massage therapy education programs are typically in private, independent schools or in community colleges or other public postsecondary institutions. Depending on the program, earning a diploma or certificate requires several months or years to complete.

Applicants to massage therapy programs typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. The curriculum generally includes both classroom study and hands-on practice of massage techniques. Required coursework includes sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and pathology, as well as subjects such as business and ethics.

Some programs concentrate on certain modalities, or specialties, such as sports, rehabilitative, or oncology massage.

In some jurisdictions, massage therapists may be required to get a license, be certified, or at least be registered with the local authorities. The requirements may vary from passing an exam, to a background check, to having an insurance.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Massage therapist is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Massage therapist career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to massage therapist.

shiatsu practitioner
herbal therapist
clinical coder

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of massage therapist. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of massage therapist with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

traditional chinese medicine therapist
complementary therapist

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of massage therapist.

  • Musculoskeletal anatomy: The human musculoskeletal system, comprising of the skeleton, muscles, cartilage, tendons, joints and other connective tissue that supports and binds tissues and organs together. The human musculoskeletal system’s primary functions, such as supporting the body, allowing motion, and protecting vital organs.
  • Contraindications: The condition under which a normally beneficial treatment can be harmful and have a counterproductive effect on a person’s health.
  • Massage theory: Principles of holistic therapeutic body massage, the application of massage techniques and the appropriate body posture, massage sequences and different mediums, massage benefits and contraindications.
  • Human anatomy: The dynamic relationship of human structure and function and the muscosceletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, urinary, reproductive, integumentary and nervous systems; normal and altered anatomy and physiology throughout the human lifespan.
  • Massage types: Techniques used and types of massage therapies such as shiatsu, deep tissue massage, Swedish, hot stone and Thai massage.
  • Skin types: The different skin types, such as dry, normal, oily, and sensitive.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of massage therapist.

  • Communicate with customers: Respond to and communicate with customers in the most efficient and appropriate manner to enable them to access the desired products or services, or any other help they may require.
  • Maintain personal hygiene standards: Preserve impeccable personal hygiene standards and have a tidy appearance.
  • Work ergonomically: Apply ergonomy principles in the organisation of the workplace while manually handling equipment and materials.
  • Empathise with the healthcare user: Understand the background of clients` and patients’ symptoms, difficulties and behaviour. Be empathetic about their issues; showing respect and reinforcing their autonomy, self-esteem and independence. Demonstrate a concern for their welfare and handle according to the personal boundaries, sensitivities, cultural differences and preferences of the client and patient in mind.
  • Give massages: Provide clients with head, hand, neck, facial or full body massages.
  • Develop personalised massage plan: Determine the massage treatment to be applied based on the medical diagnosis, the prescription plan, and according to the condition of the patient.
  • Manage healthcare users’ data: Keep accurate client records which also satisfy legal and professional standards and ethical obligations in order to facilitate client management, ensuring that all clients’ data (including verbal, written and electronic) are treated confidentially.
  • Maintain work area cleanliness: Keep the working area and equipment clean and orderly.
  • Provide health education: Provide evidence based strategies to promote healthy living, disease prevention and management.
  • Identify customer’s needs: Use appropriate questions and active listening in order to identify customer expectations, desires and requirements according to product and services.
  • Maintain privacy of service users: Respect and maintain the dignity and privacy of the client, protecting his or her confidential information and clearly explaining policies about confidentiality to the client and other parties involved.
  • Maintain customer service: Keep the highest possible customer service and make sure that the customer service is at all times performed in a professional way. Help customers or participants feel at ease and support special requirements.
  • Discuss the medical history of the healthcare user: Ask the healthcare user about his medical condition and physical well-being and the desired results to be achieved through the suggested therapy and follow the prescribed treatment.
  • Apply massage therapy: Apply massage therapy to relieve patient’s pain by using various specialised techniques.
  • Accept own accountability: Accept accountability for one`s own professional activities and recognise the limits of one`s own scope of practice and competencies.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of massage therapist. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Sport and exercise medicine: Prevention and treatment of injuries or conditions resulted from a physical activity or sport.
  • Balneotherapy: The use of therapeutic baths to treat a variety of conditions, through relaxation, massage or stimulation techniques. This includes the beneficial properties of mineral waters and mud-wrapping techniques.
  • Etiopathy: Alternative medicine therapy which has as its basis the idea that the practitioner uses only his hands to treat the patients’ symptoms on longer term by diagnosing the deeper cause of the illness.
  • Health care legislation: The patients` rights and responsibilities of health practitioners and the possible repercussions and prosecutions in relation to medical treatment negligence or malpractice.
  • Fasciatherapy: A manual therapy applied on the fascia (the connective tissue woven through the entire body) which is used for the treatment of physical or psychological disorders such as pain and movement disorders.
  • Cosmetic pedicure: Treatment of the feet and toenails for cosmetic and embellishment purposes. It includes the cleaning of dead skin and the appliance of nail polish and other cosmetic techniques.
  • Reflexology: The application of pressure to plantar, palmar, facial, cranial, dorsal, atrial and reflex points of the body with a specific finger or hand gestures and techniques, such as acupressure and the massage of reflex points located on the body.
  • Cosmetic manicure: Various elements of a manicure, such as the cutting and shaping of toe- or fingernails, removing excess callouses and cuticle around nails, and applying a protective or decorative coat of nail polish.
  • Reiki: The alternative medicine technique based on the belief that universal energy is transmitted to the patient through the palms of the practitioner.
  • Phytotherapy: The characteristics, the effects and the use of herbal medicines.
  • Administrative tasks in a medical environment: The medical administrative tasks such as registration of patients, appointment systems, record keeping of patients information and repeated precribing.
  • Human physiology: The science that studies the human organs and its interactions and mechanisms.
  • Kinetics: The study of movement and its causes.
  • Energy therapy: Alternative medicine therapy which assumes that healers use the channel healing energy to get positive effects on the patients` well-being.
  • Cosmetics: The various types of substances used to enhance the appearance of the human body.
  • Rehabilitation: The methods and procedures used to help an ill or injured person restore lost skills and regain self-sufficiency and control.
  • Hydrotherapy: The practice used to treat diseases or maintain overall health using water.
  • Health care system: The structure and function of health care services.
  • Electrotherapy: The type of medical treatment using electrical stimulation.
  • Tai chi: The traditional medicine practice, originally conceived as a martial art, which is based on Chinese philosophical principles and is known for its defense training and health benefits.
  • Shiatsu: The complementary medicine massage therapy which is based on the theoretical framework of traditional Chinese medicine and it is performed by finger massages on clients to reduce their stress and pain according to the shiatsu principles.
  • Pathology: The components of a disease, the cause, mechanisms of development, morphologic changes, and the clinical consequences of those changes.
  • Manual lymphatic drainage massage: Light techniques and strokes applied to sooth the lymphatic and circulatory systems. The structure and function of the lymphatic system, of the blood vessels of head and neck and contraindications of this type of massage.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of massage therapist. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Order supplies: Command products from relevant suppliers to get convenient and profitable products to purchase.
  • Ensure proper appointment administration: Set up a proper procedure to manage appointments, including policies related to cancellation and nonappearance.
  • Manage a small-to-medium business: Manage the organisational, financial and day-to-day operation of a small-to-medium enterprise.
  • Apply deep tissue massage: Apply precise techniques and pressures to bring changes to specific tissue layers in the body.
  • Maintain equipment: Regularly inspect and perform all required activities to maintain the equipment in functional order prior or after its use.
  • Apply sports massage: Perform massage techniques meant to address and help recover sports injuries such as sprains, torn ligaments and broken limbs.
  • Apply acupuncture: Use procedures involving the stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques, such as penetrating the skin with thin, metallic needles manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation in order to relieve pain or achieve other therapeutic benefits.
  • Apply thermotherapy: Use heating and cooling techniques to treat musculoskeletal injuries and soft tissue injuries.
  • Administer hydrotherapy: Formulate treatment plans and provide hydrotherapy treatment.
  • Process medical insurance claims: Contact the patient`s health insurance company and submit the appropriate forms with information on the patient and treatment.
  • Liaise with industry experts: Consult and cooperate with industry experts who handle matter that is relevant to you and your business.
  • Pluck hair: Use tweezers or electric devices to remove hair by mechanically grasping them and pulling them out of the roots.
  • Use hair removal lasers: Use lasers that remove hair by exposing the hair to pulses of laser light that destroy hair follicles.
  • Maintain professional administration: File and organise professional administration documents comprehensively, keep customer records, fill in forms or log books and prepare documents about company-related matter.
  • Administer appointments: Accept, schedule and cancel appointments.
  • Comply with legislation related to health care: Comply with the regional and national legislation that is relevant to one`s work and apply it in practice.
  • Apply aromatherapy: Use the therapeutic benefits of essential oils to produce massage blends, cream or lotions and help improve the physical and emotional health and well-being.
  • Process payments: Accept payments such as cash, credit cards and debit cards. Handle reimbursement in case of returns or administer vouchers and marketing instruments such as bonus cards or membership cards. Pay attention to safety and the protection of personal data.
  • Show entrepreneurial spirit: demonstrate a proactive attitude and determination to achieve success in business
  • Perform facial treatment: Perform all kinds of treatments to improve the health and attractiveness of the facial skin, such as facial masks, scrubs, eyebrow tinting, peels, hair removal and make-up.
  • Develop a collaborative therapeutic relationship: Develop a mutually collaborative therapeutic relationship during treatment, fostering and gaining healthcare users’ trust and cooperation.
  • Provide individual exercise programmes: Provide a range of exercise programmes in accordance with the needs of the clients by applying principles of exercise programming, and modifying and moderating as necessary to support effective and safe exercising.
  • Conduct pregnancy massages: Perform massages for pregnant women to sooth the discomfort as well as making the labour process easier.

ISCO group and title

3255 – Physiotherapy technicians and assistants

  1. Massage therapist – ESCO
  2. Massage Therapists : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Best Massage Therapist Job Description Examples | LiveCareer
  4. Featured image: Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash
Last updated on January 7, 2023

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