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Massage Therapy: Everything You Need to Know

massage therapist stretching client
Lydia Giammartino
February 8, 2023
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When you decide to become a massage therapist, you'll be trained in General Swedish Massage, and all the techniques in the scope of practice of a massage therapist, such as joint play, lymphatic drainage, trigger point treatment, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, and more.

This guide to massage therapy will explain all you need to know to grow your skillset as a massage therapist, the scope of practice as a massage therapist, and possible career opportunities available to you.

What are General Swedish Massage Techniques

General Swedish massage is one of the most common massage types used in clinical practice.

The massage therapist will roll, tap, and knead at the affected area, using multiple techniques.

Here's an overview of Swedish massage techniques.

  • Superficial Reflex Techniques: These techniques are used to introduce a client to the massage therapist's touch at the beginning of a treatment and are also used to soothe the client at the end of a treatment. The techniques included are Vibrations, Soothing and Stimulating Stroking, and Static Contact.
  • Passive Movement Techniques: These techniques are used to relax and loosen the tissues and joints of a client at the beginning and end of treatment. They can also be used as a form of assessment to identify where a client is guarding or restricted in movement.
  • Effleurage: The massage therapist will usually begin with effleurage, which utilizes gliding or circular strokes at varying pressures to increase circulation and warm up and flush out the muscles and tissues.
  • Tapotement: This is the drumming or tapping part of a Swedish massage. Tapotement follows a rhythmic motion such as tapping, cupping, or hammering. This technique can raise endorphin levels.
  • Petrissage: When a massage therapist deeply kneads an area, this is petrissage. Rhythmic soft tissue compression entails lifting, rolling, wringing, or kneading. The benefits of these techniques include reduced muscle tension, tone, and pain.

The goal of a Swedish massage is to reduce muscle tension and pain. Since the massage therapist can manipulate joints and muscles, they will use Swedish massage to also increase the range of motion by reducing restrictions around joints and increase joint nutrition.

The additional benefits of Swedish massage can include lymphatic drainage, elevated mood (as the massage can cause the body to release oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine), reduced anxiety and stress, and some studies have even shown evidence that massage may improve immune function.

Defining Massage Therapy Techniques

Let's take a look at several common massage therapy techniques.

Joint Play

Joint play focuses on restoring components within the joint structures, rehydrating joints, reducing pain, reducing muscle spasms, and aiding to increase the range of motion. Joint play helps improve the overall function of the body and in doing so improves one's overall health.

Lymphatic drainage

Becoming injured, undergoing surgery, or changes in health are all things people go through. As result, swelling can happen. Lymphatic drainage deals directly with swelling by encouraging the body to reabsorb extracellular fluid. The massage therapist will conduct light rhythmic strokes and compressions with a wide range of motion to aid in lymphatic drainage.

Trigger point treatment

Trigger points are the clinical term for what most people refer to as muscle knots. They can range from being completely silent to causing debilitating pain and movement restrictions, requiring extensive treatment.

Trigger point treatment is a specific series of protocols, including compressions, muscle stripping, and stretching to help identify and eliminate trigger points in the muscles. Massage students learn how to identify trigger points through palpation and learn all the specific pain referral patterns associated with each trigger point in each muscle.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) uses both stretching and resistance to help break neuromuscular holding patterns, allowing one's muscles to reset. This allows for a larger range of motion, less fatigue, and can help decrease the chance of injuries.

What is in the Scope of Practice of a Massage Therapist

Through your massage therapy curriculum, you will learn how to provide prenatal care, learn how to treat clients that have had a stroke, and much more. Here are examples of several scopes of practice for a massage therapist!

Pregnancy Massage

A pregnancy massage, also known as a prenatal massage, pregnant women can experience relief. The massage therapists who perform pregnancy massages must be certified in prenatal care.

She can't lay on her belly, and facing upward can apply blood vessel pressure to a pregnant woman. The baby may not receive the full rate of blood flow in this position, and the pregnant woman will begin to feel sick.

A prenatal massage therapist will understand how to make a pregnant woman comfortable so she can enjoy her massage and reap the most benefits. For instance, she might lie on her side instead of on her back.

Sports Massage

A sports massage can alleviate sore and tense muscles and even reduce the pain associated with short-term and long-term sports injuries.

If an athlete is currently in recovery from an injury, a sports massage could be a part of their overall healing plan.

Sports massages may even be able to prevent injuries, as the massage ensures the athlete is limber before they engage in physical activity.

Central Nervous System Conditions

When an individual experiences a stroke, spinal cord injury, or has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson's, or Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the individual will require proper care and treatment.

As a massage therapist, your curriculum will dedicate an extensive section towards providing care and relief regarding central nervous system conditions. It is important to note that you may not necessarily learn treatments for all these conditions, but you will learn how to treat a client safely and provide relief to those with extensive conditions.


Arthritis is the inflammation of joints, causing pain and stiffness that worsens with age. Common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout all fall within the scope of practice as a massage therapist.

As mentioned above, massage therapy isn't a treatment for all conditions covered within your curriculum, but you will be able to learn how to provide relief to your clients who present with conditions such as arthritis.

You will learn how to soothe arthritis pain and stiffness while improving your client's circulation. You will learn different techniques for different types of arthritis as well, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

For example, if your client has RA, you will learn that massage can improve circulation throughout the joints allowing swelling to reduce. For osteoarthritis, massage can help decrease swelling and pain, improving your client's joint mobility while providing tension and stress relief.

What are Possible Career Opportunities for a Massage Therapist

Many think becoming a massage therapist means you'll work in a spa. Well, we are here to inform you that you have ample career opportunities as a massage therapist

Sports Teams & Athletes

Have you always been interested in the sports side of massage therapy? A career as a sports massage therapist may be for you.

From baseball to football and everything in between, athletes experience injuries where they will need assistance in rehabilitating their muscles and joints for proper recovery.

Along with assisting with injuries, general massage treatment improves an athlete's range of motion, soft tissue function, and more.

Rehabilitation/Pain Management Centers

Another field you could peruse is working in a rehabilitation/ pain management center.

While working alongside other healthcare professionals such as chiropractors and physical therapists, you will assist in tailoring a specific treatment plan for each client's needs.

Your goal will be creating a treatment plan for your client to be able to live their life while limiting the pain they are experiencing.

Chiropractic & Physical Therapy Clinics

When brought together, chiropractic care and physical therapy combined with massage therapy are extremely beneficial in treating a wide range of issues, opening another field of opportunity for you.

If your client is looking for a natural, non-medicinal form of treatment for their pain, these combinations could suit their needs. The combination of treatments is extremely beneficial in helping the body heal; your client could experience less joint and muscle pain, improved blood circulation, less stress, and more.

Health & Wellness Spas and Resorts

Lastlya massage therapist can work in health & wellness spas and resorts.

Providing clients with ample relaxation, and a place where they can wind down and decompress from daily stressors, visiting a therapeutic spa has become a staple in many individuals' lives.

Looking for a Massage Therapy School to Learn the Modalities of Massage?

As a massage therapist, you'll use your skills in the above massage modalities every day to alleviate stress and pain in your clients and elevate their health and well-being.

At Bryan College, our massage therapy program will get you on the road to becoming a registered massage therapist or RMT.

During your time in the program, you'll become well-versed in all the massage modalities and operations and merchandising, clinical therapy, therapeutic relations, orthopedic assessments, client assessments, remedial exercises for rehabilitation, and client homecare plans.

Your education will also teach valuable RMT skills such as hydrotherapy, joint play, lymphatic drainage, friction therapy, myofascial and superficial fascial therapy, trigger point therapy, and therapeutic rehabilitation.

Bryan's Student Outreach program allows students to gain real-world experience through supervised events and placements in multiple unique settings.

The program will fully prepare you to take your exam through the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario to earn your Certificate of Registration, which is required to practice massage in Ontario.

Your career as an RMT can take you in a myriad of directions, including working for sports teams or pursuing self-employment.

You can also work in hospice or a nursing home, pain management centers, rehabilitation centers, multidisciplinary clinics, and wellness resorts or spas.

Learn more about Bryan College's Massage Therapy Diploma program today!

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