Specialization is a great way to advance in your massage therapy career. It distinguishes you from other massage therapists, which can mean more clients, and/or give you an advantage when applying to better positions.While you will likely encounter some of the massage styles listed below at any massage therapy school, you will likely need to obtain certifications through additional courses known as CEUs (Continuing Education Units).
However, some massage schools do offer specialization certificates as part of their program curriculum. For example, the massage program at Acupuncture and Massage College offers a certification of specialization in Shiatsu Massage.
While there is no comprehensive guide to the many different types of massage therapy specialties (there are literally hundreds of different branches of massage), these are the top massage modalities to specialize in.
Assisted Stretching is a modality in which a massage therapist applies range-of-motion movements are applied to various parts of the body, literally “assisting” a patient to stretch. This is a beneficial modality for patients with mobility issues, or injuries that make regular stretching hard to do.
For massage therapists, it’s a modality is especially useful to know for those working with athletes and elderly populations, as well for massage therapists working in pain clinics, physical therapy offices, and chiropractic practices. Since many people are already aware of the health benefits of stretching, you can expect assisted stretching to continuing growing in popularity.
A chair massage is exactly what it sounds like, a massage session done in a massage chair. The sessions are typically brief and the patient stays clothed. As such, chair massages don’t offer the same benefits that a full massage therapy session does, but they are great for promoting relaxation and reducing stress. Because the chairs are highly portable and no undressing is done, chair massages can be given in virtually anywhere.
As such, they are popular in public settings, such as corporate offices, convention spaces, and retail spots. This makes chair massage an especially good modality for freelance work or as a side-gig, since these environments tend to hire only chair massage therapists for a one-time gig or on a part-time/seasonal basis.
Medical Massage refers to massage and bodywork therapies done as complementary treatments to conventional medical care. What this means is that a physician will diagnose and treat a patient’s illnesses, but will incorporate massage therapy as a specific part of the treatment plan, such as easing symptoms from the illness or from the main treatment itself.
As such, massage therapists trained in medical massage focus on applying their treatments to specific problems. For example, a cancer-patient undergoing chemotherapy may receive massage therapy treatments to help relieve stress and nausea. Later that day, that same massage therapist may have to give a massage treatment to a post-op patient dealing with back pain.
This modality is obviously a good choice for massage therapists that want to work in a conventional medical environment. Since there’s a general trend in conventional medical care that seems to be becoming more acceptable of holistic treatments, it’s logical to assume that there is going to be a demand for medical massage in the years to come. For those massage therapists interested in medical massage, an advanced certification is offered by the American Medical Massage Association.
Swedish Massage is the most popular massage therapy modality in the US. It is widely-practiced in both relaxation settings, like spas and massage clinics, and medical settings, like hospitals and physical therapy offices. Swedish Massage consists of five techniques: Effleurage (long-gliding strokes), Petrissage (kneading), Friction, Tapotement (drumming motions), and Vibration (rhythmic shaking).
Because of its popularity and technical structure, Swedish Massage often serves as the foundation to teach other massage modalities, such as deep tissue massage and neuromuscular therapy.
Shiatsu is a Japanese massage modality that use finger pressure along certain points of the body to aid in healing and promote wellness. It is a form of Asian Bodywork, and it utilizes a Traditional Chinese Model of the Body. Shiatsu and other forms of acupressure have been found to be effective aiding in anxiety-reduction, improving maximum aerobic capacity, and improving general sleep disorders.
Because Shiatsu is based on medical theories that are different from those found in Western medicine, it’s a good modality to seek certification in for massage therapists that want to work in an Alternative Medicine setting or places that promote holistic health, such as Pain Clinics, Chiropractic Offices, Acupuncture Clinics, and/or Naturopathic Medical Practices.
Interestingly enough, according the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median wage for massage therapists at Chiropractic Offices was $51, 690, which was the highest average paying industry that employed massage therapists.
Kinesology Taping is a bodywork practice that uses rehabilitative taping to aid the body's natural healing process while also providing support to the body. While is this isn’t a massage modality in the traditional sense, many massage therapists are getting certified in Kinesology Taping.
The reason for this is that it’s currently popular among athletes and exercise enthusiasts, such as competitive cross fitters, and so massage therapists that work with athletes and in gym settings can offer this service as an upgrade to their regular services.
Choosing the Right Specialty and Massage Program
The right specialty for you will ultimately depending on your interest and where you want your career path to take off. Some massage modalities, like Swedish Massage and Shiatsu, have beaten the test of time and will always been in-demand. The demand for other modalities, like Chair Massage, will be dependent on trends found in their industries.
Newer modalities, like Assisted Stretching, seem to have the backing of science and industry acceptance that they will eventually become a massage therapy staple in the future. Others, such as Kinesiology Taping, seem to be more of a fad, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t offer something to learn and it certainly doesn’t mean that they can’t be useful to your business right now.
To learn more about becoming a massage therapist, download our free career guide below. If you're ever in Miami, pay us a visit. Acupuncture and Massage College is located at 10506 North Kendall Drive, Miami, Florida 33176.