Back to school–

So, you decide you want to be a massage therapist, you figure out what school you’re going to go to to get your training and you’re off to the races, right?

After your 250-1300 hour course, which will likely take you a year or two (and cost a good bit more than you’d expect, trade school are a for profit enterprise after all) you graduate, get your certification from either your local municipality or the state you want to work in. You interview and get a job or set up shop for yourself and start seeing clients.

This is the point where it sinks in — your school may have completely failed to teach you many of the things you need to know to be a massage therapist.

Because a number of courses are mandated that they teach at least x number of hours of ethics, safety, pathology you will have at least covered those subjects. That said, it’s likely that there will even be holes in those subjects as there are always time and instructor constraints. Below is a list of subjects that I felt my school really failed to properly teach, and some of my thoughts and experience around filling in those gaps.


1. Self Care and professional longevity

2. Anatomy of the face

3. Pathology of the skin

4. Nerve and lymphatic anatomy

5. How to run a massage therapy business


Gotta take care:

I’ve often wondered if there are other jobs like massage therapy where the more massage you do, the more massage you need. My school made brief mention of the fact that you should try to continue trading after school and sent us out the door (two caveats: I may have not been paying attention and missed a great deal of information and my school may have a very different program in place now than they did when I went through).

Health care, alternative health care (massage, acupuncture, movement therapies) proper amounts of sleep and appropriate diet will all have an impact on how much massage you can do and for how long you can survive in the industry. Exercising to maintain your core and cardio vascular health play a huge role as well. Understanding the work life balance that your spirit and body can sustain and tailoring your schedule and financial needs to match that will give you a path to a long and healthier career.

Face it, bodies are complicated and are covered in skin.

I’m lumping 2-4 into one not so simple solution: Anatomy 101 with a cadaver lab. While your massage school has a limited amount of time to teach you a very broad range of skills, your local junior college or university professor who is teaching anatomy has just the one subject. Admittedly, it’s a huge subject that a 101 class isn’t going to cover all of, but it’s a start. I strongly suggest finding a class that has cadavers to work with, even if you don’t get to do a full dissection, having the actual tissues available to see and place in relation will give you a much deeper understanding of human tissue and anatomy.

The other great thing about a collegiate course is that the materials you’re required to purchase to take the class will be excellent reference material for any questions that come up for you after the fact. Ten years after my anatomy course at Contra Costa College I still occasionally pull out my anatomy textbook to better understand some particular nerve or muscle that I can’t remember.

A cheaper and more didactic way of solving these three “holes in the road” is to use some of the very interesting and well made apps ( coaches eye and essential anatomy 3 being two that I’ve heard great things about) and simply dive in when you find you need a better understanding of some portion of the anatomy.

Okay, I lied:

Pathology of the skin is unlikely to be covered in your anatomy course, and this is an area that I’m still trying to get a better grasp on. When you spend 15 to 40 hours a week touching people, it pays to be able to spot problems. Scabies, bedbugs, fungal infections and carcinomas are all things you should be able to spot and understand how to deal with. While it’s not your job to diagnose any of these issues and is in fact out of your scope of practice to do so as a massage therapist, you may be the only person who pays attention to your clients skin and can inform them of concerning issues. I’ve told at least half a dozen people over the years that I’d like them to see a dermatologist because of something I’m seeing on their back or legs. Your safety and health is also at risk given the transmission of certain parasites via skin contact (scabies) so having a good understanding of skin pathology positively impacts you as well.


This blog:

Number 5 is alive! Okay, seriously, while it is a work in progress, the reason I started this blog in the first place was because I felt there was a huge hole in my education on how to run a massage business. While I’m covering a number of issues around the work of massage, the focus of this blog will continually come back to how to run your business of being a massage therapist. Eventually, I may be able to get all of this into book form! Until such time, other avenues of filling this gap include asking your peers, taking business courses, reading books on small business and trial and error.


Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

One Response to Back to school–

  1. Melissa May 26, 2017 at 12:30 am #

    Wow good blog! When I went to school it was 500 hours. I heard they are trying to up it to 750 hours! Some states, like New York are 1,000 hours! I don’t know how you possibly can be prepared after 300 hours? I had a pathology indepth course which I learned alot. Its great to have books to go back on Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology, and Kinesiology . It helps to know what to do on your client if you see some weird scars, rashes or who knows what. I would stop massaging them at that point if I seen this in parts or all over their body. Yes I definitely would explain why and tell them to see a doctor asap! Its always a good idea to take an extra course at a community college so you can get a better understanding. I was a nurse prior to going to massage school so I know how to identify weird things 🙂 keep blogging ! 🙂

Leave a Reply to Melissa Click here to cancel reply.