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Before You Get a Back or Neck Massage

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Updated July 10, 2011

When going for a massage for back or neck pain, it is wise to ask a series of questions of your therapist first. Your task is to find a qualified, ethical therapist, with whom you feel comfortable, and whose skill earns your confidence. For people with back or neck pain, research is in order to match your condition to the therapist's skill set, ethics and level of commitment. This article presents the basics of education, certification and licensing for massage therapists in the U.S.

Basic Education Required for All Massage Therapists

According to Mary Beth Braun, president of the American Massage Therapy Association, a qualified massage therapist will have had at least 500 hours of coursework behind them. Two states, New York and Nebraska, require 1,000 hours before allowing a therapist to practice. But the amount of massage education only starts there. Qualified therapists will have had additional training in clinical and therapeutic techniques.

Is There a License Posted on the Wall?

In all but 12 states, massage licenses are granted by the state. Elsewhere, licensing occurs at the county or municipal level. Either way, the therapist should have their license, certification and/or business license posted on their wall. You can also ask the therapist if they are licensed. The AMTA recommends you ask if the therapist is a member of their organization. Members of the AMTA are required to abide by the massage laws of their state and county.

Certification Indicates Proficiency and Committment

Research shows that the benefits of massage therapy for low back pain are greatest when the therapist has many years of experience, and/or is licensed.

Most licensed therapists have passed the national certifying exam, given by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). Passing the exam demonstrates proficiency in anatomy, physiology, techniques, ethics, health conditions and more. It also shows a commitment to the profession of massage.

Membership in Professional Organizations

Professional organizations such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) offer the consumer an opportunity to learn more about massage and to locate a qualified therapist. Members of AMTA agree to a code of ethics that comply with state and local law. Professional organizations provide opportunities for continuing education to their members. The Assoicated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) is another professional organization to which a massage therapist may belong.

Sources

Interview with Mary Beth Braun, President, American Massage Therapy Association. October 26, 2006.

Furlan AD, Brosseau L, Imamura M, Irvin E. Massage for low-back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD001929.
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