Guide to Online Massage Therapy Schools
Explore different kinds of online massage therapy programs, including coursework and in-person requirements. Also, learn about the massage therapist profession, including job duties, licensing requirements, and salary information.
Overview of Online Massage Therapy Programs
Online massage therapy educational programs prepare students for taking the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) so that they can become Licensed Massage Therapists (LMTs). Online massage therapy programs are somewhat rare and cannot be completed in a 100% online format. Most programs consist of some online coursework but also require in-person clinical training.
Below, you can explore the different kinds of massage therapy programs that feature an online/hybrid format.
Associate Degree Programs in Massage Therapy
Associate degree programs in massage therapy generally lead to an Associate of Science or an Associate of Applied Science degree. These programs require around 60 total credits and take about 2 years to complete. Students take some general education coursework in composition, the natural and social sciences, and the humanities as well as massage therapy-focused coursework. Lab or clinical courses are usually included in these programs.
There are also online associate degree programs for credentialed massage therapists that allow them to use their Board Certification credits toward their degree. These programs help massage therapists earn the right credentials to move into a management role or a clinical position.
Certificate Programs in Massage Therapy
Online massage therapy certificate programs require around 31 to 60 credits. These programs typically require only massage therapy coursework; however, a limited number of programs may require some general education coursework in composition, math, and communication. Students must also complete in-person massage clinics and labs.
Bachelor's Programs in Massage Therapy
Online bachelor's degree programs in massage therapy are incredibly rare, and most likely, not your best option for completing an online massage therapy education.
One example of an online bachelor's program is the Bachelor of Applied Science in Massage Therapy. This degree is especially for those who have earned an associate degree in massage therapy or a similar field and have professional massage experience. Along with up to 90 transfer credits, including NCBTMB board certification credits, students must typically complete 30 credits additional credits of health science and other general education coursework.
There are also some certificate degree programs that allow students to transfer their credits towards a full bachelor's degree or associate degree in massage therapy or a related field.
The exact coursework you take in an online massage therapy program depends on the type of program and your school's requirements. However, below you can explore some common topics that are covered in most massage therapy programs.
- Basic Massage Techniques - This course teaches students the basics of massage therapy, including basic human anatomy, body mechanics, and muscle attachments. Students also learn basic massage methods, such as Swedish massage techniques, and how to perform them correctly.
- Business Skills and Practices for Massage Therapy - A course on business skills and practices informs students about the different aspects of running a massage business as a small business owner. Specific business topics that are covered include best accounting practices, office management, keeping records, and insurance. Some courses might address ethical issues related to massage therapy as well as marketing concepts.
- Anatomy and Physiology - This is usually an introductory course that teaches massage students the basics of anatomy and physiology, including about the nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems as well as the function of different organs.
- Pathology - This course covers the basics of human disease, including symptoms and causes.
- Kinesiology - Students learn about how the human body moves through the use of muscular-skeletal systems with the aim of analyzing when movements go wrong.
- Reflexology - This is a course that focuses on massage and points of pressure that relate to the hands and feet. Students study how these pressure points connect to other systems and organs in the human body.
Practical Requirements for Online Massage Therapy Programs
Along with online coursework, almost all massage therapy programs require that you complete extensive in-person clinical training.
Clinical labs consist of students performing massages under instructor supervision. Students are able to develop their skills at interviewing clients, reviewing charts, and practicing different massage techniques.
Some programs, but not all, also require to students to complete externships, which could take place in off-campus professional massage locations. Under supervision, students practice their massage skills and receive feedback.
Accreditation for Online Massage Therapy Programs
Attending an accredited massage therapy school or program assures you that you are receiving a high-quality education that prepares you for your massage therapist career. Certification in the field may depend on attending an accredited program as well.
Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
COMTA is the leading organization that accredits both massage therapy programs and schools. To become accredited by COMTA, a program or school must meet COMTA's core curriculum competencies. These curriculum standards state that a program should include coursework in the following areas:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Healthcare terminology
- Hands-on massage techniques
- Massage therapist self-care strategies
- Professional ethics and standards
- Business methods
- Professional development
A program or school must also employ experience, qualified faculty, must have supervised clinics, must have standard admission procedures, must have self-assessment methods, and must offer facilities and equipment.
COMTA also endorses curriculum and faculty. This allows smaller schools to gain recognition for the quality of their programs without the financial burden of accreditation. However, keep in mind that endorsed programs might not meet the same rigorous standards as accredited programs.
National Accrediting Commission of Arts and Sciences (NACCAS)
NACCAS is an independent accrediting agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for the purpose of accrediting cosmetology arts and sciences schools and specialized schools, including massage programs and schools. To achieve accreditation from NACCAS, a school or program must meet standards in terms of faculty, administrative services, student support services, facilities, and curriculum.
The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
ACCSC is a U.S. Department of Education-approved agency that accredits technical, trade, and post-secondary schools and programs. In order to become accredited by ACCSC, a school or program must meet high standards related to administrative operations, faculty qualifications, admission policies, student outcomes, and program requirements.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Online Massage Therapy Programs
To help you afford your online massage therapy program, you can apply for scholarships and federal financial aid.
There is a number of different scholarship opportunities for students attending massage therapy programs, including from universities and private organizations. Below, you can explore various scholarship opportunities you could apply for:
- Successful Hands Grant - This is a grant opportunity from private massage companies that help students pay for their education and textbooks. You must submit a 200-word essay about your professional goals. Eight students get $1,000 and their schools get $1,000 worth of products and cash.
- AMTA Scholarship - This is a $5,000 scholarship from the American Massage Therapy Association for currently enrolled students in a massage therapy program.
- ISPA Foundation Mary Tabacchi Scholarship - A scholarship opportunity from the International SPA Association Foundation for students in a bachelor's or master's program who are pursuing a career in spa management.
- The Beauty Changes Lives Massage Envy Scholarship - This is a $1,500 award for students enrolled at a qualified massage therapy program. A total of 6 scholarships are awarded each year.
- Massage Student Scholarship - This is a $1,500 scholarship from Idaho State University for students who are enrolled in a massage therapy training school or program. Candidates must submit a video or essay.
Federal Financial Aid
You can also fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and discover what kinds of federal aid is available to you. Although students in certificate programs aren't typically eligible for federal financial aid, those in associate and bachelor's programs are. Based on need and enrollment status, you could qualify for Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct Subsidized Loans, and grants. You could also qualify for work-study programs that require you to work as you earn your degree.
Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Licensed Massage Therapist
There are several steps to becoming a licensed massage therapist, including completing a massage therapy program, taking a national exam, and obtaining a state license.
Step 1: Complete an Educational Massage Therapy Program
Your first step in becoming a massage therapist is completing the right educational track. Massage therapy programs can require anywhere from 500 to 1,000 hours of coursework and clinical in-person training. You need this education and practical training to be eligible to take a massage therapy licensing exam.
Step 2: Pass an Approved National Exam in Massage Therapy
The most common massage therapy entry-level licensing exam is the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), which is offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. Many states accept this exam for state licensing purposes.
Step 3: Apply for a State License
Although each state has slightly different licensing requirements, you are usually required to complete a set amount of education hours (that include clinical training), pass an exam, such as the MBLEx, have insurance, and be certified in CPR. It's best to check with your state's massage therapy licensing board to learn about exact requirements.
Step 4: Complete Continuing Education Requirements
Many states require that you complete continuing education hours to renew your license. This requirement varies by state.
Massage Therapist Career Information and Salary
Massage therapists help clients improve their physical and mental well-being and heal from injuries by performing hands-on massage that manipulates muscles and soft tissue.
A massage therapist first must speak to their clients about their medical history and symptoms to create a treatment plan. They then psychically evaluate the patient to locate areas of injury, tenseness, or pain. Massage therapists then use their massage and bodywork skills to help alleviate tension and pain. The total time a massage therapist could work on a client ranges from 10 minutes to 1 hour. Massage therapists must also keep records and documents about their clients' health conditions and their progress.
As massage therapists interact with clients, they must have good interpersonal and communication skills. Additionally, as they work with clients who are ill or have injuries, they must be compassionate. Massage therapy is also a psychically demanding profession and requires physical strength to apply pressure and manipulate muscles. Massage therapists spend a good portion of their workday on their feet.
Massage therapists work in a variety of settings, including in their own offices or homes, if they are self-employed, in spas, in chiropractor's offices, and in other types of health clinics.
Salary and Job Outlook Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018, massage therapists earned a median salary of $41,420. The number of massage therapist jobs is expected to rise by 22% from 2018-2028.
Professional Licensure and Certification for Massage Therapists
To be a practicing massage therapist, you must obtain a state license, which requires that you take a national licensing exam. You can also earn voluntary board certification.
Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx)
The MBLEx is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. This licensing exam is required by some states in order to obtain state licensure. To be eligible for the MBLEx, you must complete an approved massage therapy program or a massage therapy program that covers all testing areas of the MBLEx. You must also complete an application, pay a fee, and send in your educational records.
The MBLEx covers the following content areas:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Client assessment and treatment plan creation
- Ethics, laws, ad regulations
- Professional practice
Board Certification Exam in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCETMB)
The BCETMB is an optional board certification credential that is administrated by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB).
The BCETMB consists of 140 question and tests you in the following subject areas:
- Anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pharmacology, and pathology
- Massage techniques and modalities
- Communication skills
- Ethics and professionalism
- Business practices and laws
- Patient assessment
To earn board certification from the NCBTMB, you must:
- Pass the BCETMB
- Graduate from an NCBTMB Assigned School
- Pass a background check and pay $25 background check fee
- Adhere to NCBTMB Standards of Practice & Code of Ethics
- Pay a $250 application & exam fee
Professional Massage Therapist Associations
There are several organizations that promote the massage therapy profession, offer member benefits, and help massage therapists complete additional education.
Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP)
ABMP was founded in 1987 and currently provides membership opportunities for massage therapists and those in the bodywork fields. As a member of ABMP, you get access to continuing education courses, liability insurance, webinars, and various discounts. ABMP also offers students MBLEx test preparation materials.
American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)
AMTA is a non-profit massage therapist organization that advocates for fair licensing standards and promotes the benefits of massage. As a paid AMTA member, you can access liability insurance, educational resources, discounts, and career guidance.