Photo Credit:
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

How to Choose a Qualified Massage Therapist

Your unique aches, pains and conditions require an expert touch
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
October 21, 2013

If you’ve ever booked an appointment for a massage, chances are you were focused more on when you would be able to achieve bliss and relaxation than on choosing who would take you there. To truly get the most out of your massage, it’s key to choose a qualified massage therapist—one who understands the proper techniques to keep you safe and improve your health, both mind and body.

Sure, a quickie back rub from your spouse can certainly help you relax, but trained massage therapists have taken graduated from a special program that required classes in subjects like anatomy and physiology, extensive technique education and massage practice. They understand how the body works and moves, and they use that knowledge to tailor your massage to your specific concerns, such as headaches, back pain and so on. Finding the best massage therapist for your needs could take a little more effort than calling up the local spa, but it shouldn’t add to the tension you’re hoping to release.

Gather Some Possibilities

Recommendations from friends and family members can be useful, but also check the websites of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and the American Massage Therapy Association; both let you search for therapists by location. The former certifies therapists, while the latter is a professional association and advocacy group. You might also want to call a local accredited massage school for a recommendation. Then, cross-reference any names with consumer reviews on websites such as Yelp.com, just to get additional perspectives.

Check for Licensing and Certification

Once you have a few names you’re considering, call or check online (most spa and clinic websites list the credentials of their employees) to make sure they are licensed and/or certified. Most states regulate massage therapy, and licensed therapists will list “LMT” (licensed massage therapist) or “LMP” (licensed massage practitioner) next to their names. Likewise, “CMT” indicates that the person is certified. Don’t be shy about asking who conferred certification and the requirements; NCBTMB, for example, requires that therapists complete 500 hours of training at an accredited institution and pass a standardized competency test every four years.

Consider Your Condition

If you’re seeing a massage therapist specifically to treat chronic pain or another medical condition, the masseuse at your favorite spa may not be appropriate for your needs. While some focus on general relaxation and everyday muscle tension, others have a background in treating people with specific health concerns, such as fibromyalgia or cancer, and are very experienced at providing care that both complements your medical treatment and is safe given your condition. Be sure to ask.

Some therapists specialize in prenatal massage or dealing with athletic injuries, as well. Sports massage therapists are trained to help prevent and treat injuries caused by physical activity, and physical therapists actually use the same techniques—along with specific exercises, functional training and electrotherapeutic modalities—to restore movement and function.

Do some research and call prospective practitioners, whether they work in a spa, a physical rehabilitation center or elsewhere. Talk to your doctor about what type of massage therapist he or she recommends, given your unique needs, and find out if the therapist will consult with your doctor about treatment and how you respond to it.

Although there’s little risk associated with massage therapy, ask if your therapist carries malpractice or liability insurance, which helps protect you.

Check with Your Insurance Company

Thanks to the documented benefits of massage in managing pain and other symptoms, many health insurance plans now cover massage therapy for certain conditions. Talk to your health insurance provider about the rules for reimbursement: You may be required to receive massage therapy from a physical therapist and not from a massage therapist at a spa, for example. You may also need to get a prescription from your doctor in advance of treatment.

Get to Know Your Practitioner

Before your massage, consider taking one final step—going for a consultation. Either in person or over the phone, talk with two or three therapists about your specific issues and what you hope to achieve during your sessions.

Think of these conversations like mini job interviews—a chance to gauge each therapist’s skills, get to know each other and see whether their personality jibes with yours. Inquire about experience and training, and let them ask a lot of questions to assess your needs and explain how they would address them. Just like in any interview, you may hit it off with your “candidates,” or decide that they’re not a good fit. Either way, it’s better to know beforehand than risk spending an hour feeling uncomfortable.

Go For a Trial Run

Consider your first appointment a test drive. Speak up about what you want (intense pressure, light pressure, etc.) and how you feel (too warm, too cold). Even after all your due diligence, you may find that your therapist isn’t exactly what you need or want, and that’s OK. You can change practitioners at any time. The more comfortable you feel with the massage therapist that you choose, the more beneficial and enjoyable each session will be in the long run.

Reference(s) 
American Massage Therapy Association
Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork