Massage Therapists' Popularity is Rising

Your back curls like a question mark as you hunch over your keyboard. As the hours wear on and you're still at work, your shoulders begin to tire and your neck aches. You need a massage.

Massage therapists can help relieve sore and stiff muscles. A massage loosens muscles that can control pain. A massage can also lessen the chance of injury during sport or work. It can lead to overall better health.

Massage can treat soft tissue injuries such as whiplash and sprains. It can help with diseases such as osteoarthritis. It offers relief for pregnant women and people with low back pain. Massage can also help with psychological problems such as stress, anxiety and depression.

A massage isn't simple. Many different techniques and theories can be applied to the practice.

For example, Swedish massage is a system that uses long, kneading strokes. The Rosen method employs a gentler touch and verbal communication. Other types of massage therapy include sports massage, triggerpoint massage, reflexology, shiatsu therapy and deep tissue massages.

Some massage therapists employ many different techniques. Others specialize in just one method. "We're all trained in the same techniques," says Dennis Caouette, a massage therapist.

"Some use all of these types on the job and others prefer to specialize. For example, someone might only give massages for pregnant women."

More and more people are interested in having a session with these health-care practitioners. And more doctors are referring patients to massage therapists.

As massage therapy becomes more popular, massage therapists can find work in an increasing number of different settings. For example, professional athletes are realizing the benefits of massage. Many are hiring professionals to look after them.

Many other people are turning to massage therapists for relaxation. Health spas are becoming increasingly popular destinations. According to the International Spa Association (ISPA), the number of facilities and resorts that have spas has grown rapidly over the last several years. This growth in the spa industry means more job opportunities for massage therapists.

Steven Ticen owns a massage therapy school near the California town of Calistoga. Calistoga is famous for its volcanic mud baths and luxurious spas.

Ticen says that up to 80 percent of his graduates find work in these spas. The rest readily find work in the surrounding area.

"There are definitely employment opportunities here," he says. "I teach a specifically spa-type massage, which is a Swedish massage. Just in and around these spas, there is a great demand for massage therapists."

Many people are interested in using massage as an alternative form of medical treatment.

"People are realizing the benefits of traditional therapies," says Sonya Wilson. She is a shiatsu therapist. "They aren't turning their back on western medicine, but they're finding complementary therapies."

Wilson says that over the past five years, a specialized massage therapy called shiatsu has grown more popular.

"Even a few years ago, you couldn't earn a living just doing shiatsu," she says. "No one had heard of it. But now, more people are finding out about it."

More people are interested in treatments such as acupressure [and] acupuncture," she says. "They are, in general, more receptive to eastern medicine and philosophy."

But before you leap into a massage therapy program, do some thorough research. A lot of public and private schools offer all types of massage and bodywork courses. But not all of these schools are accredited.

Massage therapists graduating from non-accredited programs can have problems becoming certified.

In the United States, only 29 states have certification requirements for massage therapists. However, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork offers independent certification for all massage therapists.

Check with this organization to find out the minimum number of training hours currently needed to become certified. Also, check to find out what schools offer the correct training.

Certification is important. It lets the public know that practitioners have a certain level of competence and training.

If you're the type of person who enjoys communicating and helping others, you may find a career opportunity in massage therapy. "You should be a giver and really want to listen to people's needs," says Caouette.

Wilson agrees. "As I work with someone, I encourage feedback," she says. "Sometimes it's almost like being a detective. You notice things and help draw them out. With your help, a person can leave feeling better, more relaxed and more grounded."


American Massage Therapy Association
An organization for bodywork professionals

National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork
The certifying body for American massage therapists

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