What is a Massage Therapy Degree?

Education programs in massage therapy are available largely at the certificate/diploma level. Some schools also offer an associate degree in the field.

Regardless of which credential they choose to earn, massage therapy students study the art and science of human touch. They learn how massage and muscle stimulation can relieve physical pain and mental stress and help the body relax, regain mobility, and detoxify.

The typical massage therapy accredited curriculum includes courses in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology (the science of body movement), and pathology (the science of the causes and effects of diseases). A clinical practicum is also part of the curriculum. Programs may concentrate on one or multiple kinds of massage therapy:

  • Swedish
  • Hot Stone
  • Aromatherapy
  • Deep Tissue
  • Sport
  • Trigger Point
  • Reflexology
  • Shiatsu
  • Thai
  • Prenatal

Many programs also introduce students to the use of massage therapy in treating athletic injuries.

Program Options

Certificate / Diploma / Associate Degree
All of these programs prepare students to pass the massage therapist certification exams required in most U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The associate degree curriculum, though, includes general studies courses like math, science, English, and psychology.

The typical massage therapy curriculum contains a laboratory/practicum component and classes in the following:

  • Fundamentals of Anatomy, Physiology, and Kinesiology – the basic structure and function of the muscular, skeletal, and integumentary (skin, hair, nails, glands, nerves) systems of the human body
  • Myology – the study of the structure, arrangement, and action of muscles
  • Pharmacology – the study of the effects of drugs on the human body
  • Pathophysiology – the study of the functional changes that an individual experiences due to a disease
  • Therapeutic Massage / Types of Massage Therapy (See Summary Section, above)
  • Medical Terminology
  • Massage in a Medical Setting – massage for special populations like pregnant women, infants, and cancer patients
  • Infection Control
  • Nutrition
  • Communicating with Clients
  • Maintaining Treatment Records
  • General Business Practices
  • Professional Ethics

Degrees Similar to Massage Therapy

The fields of health science, healthcare, and wellness are diverse. Therefore, students thinking about pursuing a degree in massage therapy have a wide range of other related degrees that may also respond to their career aspirations:

Athletic Training
The focus of athletic training degree programs is the prevention and treatment of sports injuries. Students learn how to prevent, assess, and care for such injuries through therapeutic exercise and nutrition. Classes cover human anatomy, exercise physiology, first aid, and emergency care.

Exercise Physiology
A degree in exercise physiology typically includes coursework in biology, anatomy, nutrition, and kinesiology. Exercise physiologists work to improve overall patient health. They help people recover from chronic illnesses and injuries by developing programs aimed at increased flexibility and cardiovascular function.

Health Science
Degree programs in health science teach how the human body functions in health and disease and explore how environmental and social factors can impact both of these conditions. The typical curriculum covers the basic sciences, health research, and healthcare systems. A health science degree can lay the foundation for further study and a degree in a specific health field such as nutrition, exercise science, or physical therapy.

Kinesiology
Kinesiology is about the factors that affect human movement. The major can prepare students for a wide spectrum of careers in health, wellness, fitness, and education. It provides solid footing for future personal trainers, athletic trainers and therapists, and exercise scientists. It also lays the foundation for advanced study in kinesiology and in the fields of medicine, physiotherapy, and chiropractic medicine.

Nursing
The field of nursing is broad. And nurses work in virtually every aspect of healthcare. A nursing degree – and there are many different ones – could be of interest to someone who initially considered a degree in massage therapy, simply because all health, wellness, and health science fields are ultimately connected.

Nutrition Science
Nutrition, of course, has an impact on the capacity of the human body to move with ease – or with dis-ease. The connection of this field with that of massage therapy is therefore clear.

Occupational Therapy
It has been said that physical therapists (PTs) treat the patient’s impairment, while occupational therapists (OTs) treat the whole person. An OT, for example, helps people with a spinal cord injury manage temporary or permanent disabilities caused by their injury.

Physical Education Teaching and Coaching
Programs in this degree field prepare students to work as physical education instructors and coaches. Coursework covers anatomy and physiology, human growth and development, and teaching/coaching methods.

Physical Therapy
The fields of physical therapy and massage therapy are closely connected. The objective of both is to restore function and relieve pain. Massage therapy, however, is focused on muscles and soft tissues of the body. Physical therapy takes a wider, more medical approach to treatment; it does not rely solely on massage to increase a patient’s range of motion.

Therapeutic Recreation
Degree programs in therapeutic recreation train students how to plan and implement recreational activities, such as gardening, fishing, or horseback riding, that encourage the health and well-being of patients with physical, mental, or emotional challenges.

Skills You'll Learn

In studying for their role within the healthcare system, students of massage therapy develop certain transferable skills and learn how important they are in effectively treating clients:

Communication
The ability to respond to clients’ questions and concerns is key to gaining their confidence and growing a massage therapy – or any other – practice.

Perception
Massage therapy graduates know the value of being able to read body language and understanding cultural differences. They have learned that a healing environment starts with a positive therapist/client relationship.

Empathy
The ability to understand and relate to what clients are feeling and experiencing is a foundational skill that can be applied to many situations.

Concentration and Focus
Distraction in any kind of work lowers productivity. In the healthcare field, a lack of concentration and focus can lead to much more serious consequences. Massage therapy graduates, therefore, know that focused care is fundamental.

What Can You Do with a Massage Therapy Degree?

Healthcare
Various sectors of the healthcare field employ massage therapists. In some of these settings, massage therapists may work with doctors and other medical and rehabilitation professionals that make up a patient’s healthcare team:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation Clinics
  • Physical Therapy Centers
  • Chiropractic Clinics
  • Alternative Medicine Clinics
  • Assisted Living / Nursing Homes

Wellness / Spas
The wellness and spa industry is a large employer of massage therapists. Consider the many places where these kinds of facilities are commonly found:

  • Hotels
  • Resorts
  • Cruise Ships
  • Independent Spas and Wellness Centers
  • Franchise Spas and Wellness Centers

Sports and Fitness
In this field, massage therapists are hired by:

  • Gyms
  • Fitness Centers
  • Athletic Teams

Corporate Wellness Programs
Some businesses offer massage therapy as an onsite employee benefit. This is certainly more common in the case of large corporate headquarters.

Self-Employment
It is quite common for massage therapy graduates to go into business for themselves.

Career Paths

Learn about your career prospects after graduation.

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