Massage Therapy Online and Campus Degrees

The Basics

Imagine being able to help someone reduce their stress level, relieve their pain, and even treat an injury or prevent future injuries from happening. Then imagine having the knowledge and skills to provide those services to a wide variety of people in a wide variety of settings. In other words, not only could you help improve the quality of life of the people around you, but you could do so in just about any type of work setting you wish.

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not. Massage therapists enjoy a career that helps others and affords opportunities for working in a myriad of settings.

Massage therapists are highly trained with an understanding of the human body and a skill set to help the body release stress and heal from injury. It’s much more than giving someone a back rub; instead, massage therapy is a science-based occupation that requires years of study, practice, and certification and licensure to work.

But the hard work that’s required to become a massage therapist is well worth it, given that your knowledge and skills can be used to make someone else’s life better. If you’re interested in this type of work, read on for further details about getting a degree in massage therapy.

What is a Massage Therapy Degree?

The educational requirements to become a massage therapist actually vary widely based on location, meaning, what someone is required to do for a massage therapy degree in California will likely be different from the requirements expected of someone in New York to fulfill a similar degree.

That being said, there are some common education requirements that most massage therapy students must meet before they can practice, beginning with completion of a massage therapy program of at least 500 hours of study (though many programs require 1,000 or more hours).

To be admitted to massage therapy program, a student must first have a high school diploma or GED. Once admitted to a program, students learn the essentials of massage therapy and running a business, including:

  • Types and forms of massage treatments, including sports massage treatments, Swedish massage, and deep tissue massage.
  • Anatomy and physiology, or the study of human organs and tissues.
  • Kinesiology, which focuses on body mechanics and the ways in which the body is able to move.
  • Pathology, or the study of diseases.
  • Ethical practices, which teaches students how to conduct themselves in a manner that is respectful, lawful, and ethical.
  • Business practices, which delves into starting and operating one’s own massage therapy business.

These studies take the form of both classroom-based learning as well as real-world experience working with actual massage therapy patients.

Additionally, to get a degree in massage therapy, students in most states are required to be certified, licensed, or both. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45 states and Washington, D.C. require massage therapists to be certified or licensed at the state or local level.

Usually, certification or licensure as a massage therapist requires prospective therapists to prove that they graduated from an approved massage therapy program. Likewise, they usually have to pass a state-specific exam or get a satisfactory score on the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), which is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.

What is a Sports Massage Therapy Degree?

A sports massage therapy degree is not unlike a traditional massage therapy degree in that there is a healthy dose of coursework and real-world experiences that revolve around the understanding of physical structures and the application of massage techniques to address tension, stress, or damage to those physical structures.

For example, sports massage therapy degrees often require students to show competency in:

  • Recognizing injuries and developing strategies for preventing injuries.
  • Sports-specific strategies for treating injuries, like understanding what types of massage therapy treatments are ideal for a baseball pitcher’s throwing arm or a golfer’s back.
  • Basic and advanced anatomy and physiology, including the primary physical structures of the human body.
  • Reflexology principles, including how to use the body’s reflex points to treat injury and illness.

Additionally, sports massage therapists usually have to be licensed or certified to practice, which can only be done after successful completion of an approved sports massage therapy program and passing a state or national-level exam, as elaborated upon in the previous section.

What is the Difference Between an Associate and a Bachelor’s Degree in Massage Therapy?

The primary differences between an associate’s degree in massage therapy and a bachelor’s degree in massage therapy are the time it takes to complete the degrees and the type and difficulty of the coursework that’s required.

Associate’s degrees are intended to be an introduction to the field of study, and as such, they focus on general course requirements that offer students a well-rounded education. For example, a student that’s pursuing an associate’s degree in massage therapy would be required to take courses in history, English, mathematics, science, and other core courses that lay the foundation for advanced knowledge.

Beyond that, many associate’s degree programs in massage therapy introduce students to studies related to the field, like anatomy and physiology, biology, and kinesthetics. Associate’s degree programs usually consist of about 60 credit hours of coursework, which can be completed in a two-year time period.

Bachelor’s degrees, by contrast, typically require around 120-hours of study to complete the program. Students that first complete an associate’s degree will have about half of those requirements completed, depending on transfer rules for credits, of course. That leaves about two more years of studies remaining to complete a bachelor’s degree.

The final two years of a bachelor’s degree program is much more program-specific. That means students will spend their time in advanced courses that pertain specifically to massage therapy. Again, as noted earlier, there is a heavy emphasis on science coursework like anatomy, physiology, kinesthetics, and pathology. Likewise, students can expect to have courses in ethics and business as well.

Bachelor’s degree programs also have much more hands-on experience for massage therapy students, giving them practical experiences with actual patients while still under the supervision of their instructors. This is a critical component of a massage therapy program – learning how to apply knowledge to therapeutic situations in a way that improves the quality of life of the patient.

What Does it Take to Get a Degree in Massage Therapy?

As noted earlier, to gain admission to most massage therapy programs, one must demonstrate that they have graduated from high school or hold a GED.

Once in the program, students are required to show competency as it pertains to massage therapy topics and skills, which are evaluated by instructors both in the classroom via classroom assignments, readings, and testing, and in real-world situations in which students must apply their learning to treat an actual patient.

Naturally, areas in which students show weak comprehension or execution must be addressed before they are allowed to move on to other areas of study in the program.

In addition to that, students typically must show an understanding of ethical practices with patients. For example, massage therapy students are required to understand healthcare and privacy laws, as well as develop an understanding of ethical practice as it pertains to maintaining healthy and safe boundaries with their patients. In other words, to complete a degree program in massage therapy, students mustn’t just be skilled with implementing massage therapy tactics, but they must also be committed to practicing with integrity.

Some important skills and personal qualities that are necessary for completing a massage therapy program include:

  • Excellent communication skills, including the ability to actively listen to patients to learn about the problems for which they seek treatment.
  • Decision-making skills that enable the prospective massage therapist to develop an appropriate program of treatment and act quickly should an emergency arise.
  • Physical stamina that allows the prospective massage therapist to stay on their feet most of the day and exert enormous physical energy into providing massage services.
  • Empathy and understanding, such that the prospective massage therapist is able to understand their client’s struggles, make them feel comfortable, and offer treatments that improve their quality of life.

What Can You Do With a Degree in Massage Therapy?

A degree in massage therapy may open up many career possibilities.

Some massage therapists work in a clinical or hospital setting to provide rehabilitative massage services to patients that have suffered some sort of injury. In these settings, massage therapists often work as part of a team of professionals – including occupational therapists, physical therapists, nurses, and medical doctors – to develop a short-term and long-term program of care for the patient.

Similarly, a massage therapist can work in a therapeutic setting as well, such as a health or wellness center, a rehabilitation facility, an inpatient treatment center, and so forth. Again, in this setting, you’ll often find that massage therapists are but one member of a much larger team that’s responsible for the treatment of patients.

Other massage therapists choose to work in environments that focus on pampering clients and helping them to relax. These work settings, like spas, hotels, resorts, cruise ships, and so forth, offer massage therapists a less stressful career than a clinical setting. Additionally, massage therapists often work by themselves or perhaps with a small group of other massage therapists when employed in this sector.

Many massage therapists choose to go the self-employment route and go into private practice. In this setting, massage therapists have the greatest level of autonomy and can choose to practice whatever type of massage therapy they enjoy the most. What’s more, self-employed massage therapists not only get to set their own schedules, but they can also choose how much to charge clients – within an acceptable range of what a person will pay for a massage, that is.

How Much Can You Earn With a Degree in Massage Therapy?

According to PayScale, the average wage for a massage therapist is just under $20.00 per hour. However, the income a massage therapist can expect to earn depends on a variety of factors, not the least of which is their level of education and experience. Typically, massage therapists with advanced degrees, certifications, and experience can command higher wages than massage therapists that have minimal qualifications and experience.

Another factor that influences the income for a massage therapist is their area of expertise. Therapists with a specialization in applying massage in sports therapy, neuromuscular therapy, and physical therapy situations are typically paid more than average.

Self-employed massage therapists tend to make more money than average as well. PayScale notes that self-employed massage therapists make anywhere from $50,000 per year to over $120,000 per year. Conversely, massage therapists that work in an institutional or clinical setting report salaries of $25,000-$65,000 per year.

What Degrees are Similar to Massage Therapy?

If massage therapy doesn’t seem like the right fit, you might consider pursuing a degree in a related area, such as:

Athletic Trainer – Like students in massage therapy programs, prospective athletic trainers learn how to identify injuries, treat injuries, and prevent injuries for their clients. Athletic trainers are also responsible for developing plans of care for their patients and overseeing the execution of those care plans, so there is coursework on planning and care maintenance in athletic trainer programs. In some cases, students in these programs might even learn massage therapy techniques.

Exercise Physiologist – Students in an exercise physiology program learn how to analyze a person’s medical issues to develop an exercise regimen that helps improve their quality of life. As a result, exercise physiology students learn how to design and perform fitness tests using medical equipment that allows them to analyze their patient’s performance. Like other students in this field, people pursuing a degree in exercise physiology must demonstrate competence in understanding the human body, identifying and treating injuries, and working to ensure that their patients receive quality care in a safe environment, and as a result, their coursework focuses in large part on these areas. Though some exercise physiologists hold just a bachelor’s degree, many go on to get their master’s degree in the field.

Physical Therapist – Students that are interested in a career in physical therapy must first complete a bachelor’s degree program and then complete a 3-year doctor of physical therapy program after that. Coursework is more rigorous and detailed than that of typical massage therapy programs, and includes studies in biomechanics, neuroscience, biology, anatomy and physiology, and some degree of clinical work as well. Physical therapy students might be required to complete a residency after graduation, which typically lasts one year.

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