Most people have a general understanding of what massage is. But what few people realise is the variety of types of massage out there, and the extent of its applications. For anyone who enjoys interacting with people and who loves hands-on, physical work, working as a massage therapist can be an ideal and flexible career choice.
Massage is the manipulation of layers of muscle and tissue to improve function, assist the healing process, and encourage relaxation and general wellbeing.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a good massage, you’ll know some of its benefits. Boosted vitality, increased mobility, better sleep and relaxation. It usually feels pretty darn good – although it can at times be a little uncomfortable when sore, tight or injured muscles are involved.
There are at least 30 kinds of massage out there, each with their own claim to achieving better health through a combination of pressure, heat and movement. There’s massage targeting different areas such as the back, legs, head, feet, fingers, toes and pressure points, massage using aromatic oils, massage performed with hot rocks, deep tissue and lymphatic drainage – the variations are almost endless.
‘Remedial’ is a sort of umbrella term for a range of techniques, the key goal being to fix a problem – to heal, or at least provide the conditions through which healing can take place.
Remedial massage helps to nourish the skin, reduce swelling, increase circulation and lymph flow, reduce stiffness, strengthen and repair muscles, improve joint mobility, improve nerve function, reduce pain and clear toxins. It can help with injuries such as Achilles injuries, tendonitis, hamstring Injuries, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, RSI, cartilage damage and back problems, as well as a plethora of other conditions.
Several massage styles come under the remedial banner, and each provides its own unique benefits.
Swedish massage is a ‘classic’ form of massage that uses a variety of techniques to treat sore muscles, stress and bad circulation. Techniques vary from long soothing strokes (effleurage) to tapping and shaking of muscles, and can be shallow or deep depending on the client.
Deep tissue massage is designed to ease chronic pain and can be beneficial for anyone who uses their body in a physically stressful fashion, or who has suffered a sports injury. The therapist will use his or her fingers, thumbs, palms, forearms and elbows to work through to the deep muscles underlying the superficial muscles and tissues.
Traditional Chinese massage is designed to treat both illness and injury, and is effective for pain relief, increasing energy levels and improving emotional and mental wellbeing. It follows the principles of Chinese medicine and is about enhancing the flow of energy, or Qi. Traditional Chinese massage therapists often use a combination of thumb pressure and kneading techniques.
Shiatsu literally means ‘finger pressure’ and is a Japanese massage technique that is both remedial and relaxing. It involves the application of pressure and holding, rubbing, heating and stretching techniques, predominantly using the fingers but also the forearms and elbows. Considered a holistic treatment, as with Chinese massage the goal is to restore energy flow.
Thai massage is usually performed oil-free, often on the floor, and involves deep massage and stretching. The masseur or masseuse will generally use their feet to do the massaging while the hands position and stretch the body – hence its nickname as ‘the lazy man’s yoga’. There’s also a lot of finger, toe and ear pulling, back walking, and sometimes knuckle cracking.
Sports massage is often a combination of remedial treatments – for example, shiatsu and Swedish. The goal is to prepare the athlete for top performance, to reduce fatigue, relieve swelling, lessen muscle tension, encourage flexibility and prevent injuries.
Relaxation massage is primarily designed to relax and soothe rather than treat a particular ailment, although it uses many remedial techniques. It’s not painful (as some remedial massage can be) and usually involves soothing music and essential oils.
Of course, relaxation massage has its health benefits too, improving circulation, digestion, skin tone and sleep. Not to mention putting clients into a state of relaxed bliss!
There are many more techniques that a therapist may use depending on the desired health outcome, such as lymphatic drainage, trigger point therapy and myofascial release, to name just a few. To enter the world of massage is to enter a diverse universe of healing where you can continue to develop and learn new techniques.
There are a number of qualities that go into making a good massage therapist. One of the most essential is the ability to communicate and listen to your client, so you understand his or her needs and can develop the rapport and level of comfort necessary when dealing with people in this manner. Massage is, after all, a fairly intimate activity that requires a relationship of trust and openness. It can sometimes trigger emotional responses and releases that you need to be able to handle. Essentially, you should like people and be capable of genuine caring and empathy.
Physical stamina is also a must for any massage therapist, and you will have to keep yourself fit, strong and healthy. Massage is extremely physical work and doing back-to-back massages is no walk in the park.
As individuals and companies cotton on to the health benefits of massage, the demand for skilled therapists is flourishing – and with it, job prospects. Today, massage professionals are everywhere, working in a host of medical and recreational settings. That means that as a qualified massage therapist, you’ve got a world of options.
You’ll be eligible to work in a professional massage therapy clinic (possibly your own), in a hospital or community health or aged care facility. You could work as an in-house sports trainer, in a gym, or for a pro sporting team. You could find yourself working in a five-star resort, or a day spa or cruise ship.
You could also go mobile, visiting clients in their homes and offices. Businesses are getting in on the act and hiring massage therapists to come into the workplace as they realise that relaxed and healthy workers make better workers.
As a trained massage therapist, you can end up virtually anywhere. For flexibility and travel opportunities, massage is pretty hard to beat.
If you want to become a massage therapist you’ll need formal training, and fortunately there are plenty of massage courses out there – many of them available to study online, in your own time and from the comfort of your own home.
All you need to do is decide what kind of massage you’d like to do, and which course is the most appropriate for you. You could start with a Certificate IV in Massage Therapy Practice or a Diploma of Remedial Massage, or specialise in shiatsu or traditional Chinese massage. Whatever the course, you’ll receive training in a range of techniques and gain essential knowledge in anatomy and physiology.
Another way to get some massage skills is via natural therapies courses. Studies in aromatherapy, kinesiology, reflexology, naturopathy and acupuncture all have massage components. Beauty therapy courses will also often include units in relaxation massage, and many sports qualifications – like a Certificate IV in Fitness, Diploma of Sport or Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science – also provide key training in massage, especially those focused on athlete support.
After completing your massage course, getting certified by the Australian Massage Association will help you gain more cred with employers, and will keep you linked with the wider massage community.
If you want a career with a human touch, you can’t go past a career in massage.