Sports Massage Specialist Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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A massage specialist's median annual salary is around $37,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a sports massage specialist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Sports Massage Specialist Career

Sports massage specialists provide massage services to athletes in order to improve performance and as as part of rehabilitation from injuries. Consider the following pros and cons to see if this career might be right for you.

Pros of a Sports Massage Specialist Career
Strong job growth predicted in the massage field (23% between 2012 and 2022)*
Relatively few educational requirements (postsecondary vocational training)*
Wide range of general massage techniques (most therapists use multiple modalities)*
Work in various settings (fitness centers, sports medicine clinics, rehab centers, etc.)*

Cons of a Sports Massage Specialist Career
Often work part time (two-thirds of massage therapists worked less than full time in 2012)*
Significant risk of injury (from repetitive motion and prolonged standing)*
License is usually required (massage industry is regulated in 43 states and D.C.)*
New therapists must build a loyal client base to establish themselves*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Sports massage specialists are massage therapists who specialize in sports massage techniques. They use various massage skills and stretching exercises to enhance athletic performance and improve rehabilitation from sports-related injuries. Massage can be used before athletic events, during events and after events to help relax participants and prevent or treat injuries. Venues for massage can range from informal events to professional or school sports to the Olympics, and many sports massage specialists work with teams at school or professional levels. Others work in rehab centers, fitness clubs and physical therapy offices.

Job Growth and Salary Info

While no specific job growth statistics are available for sports massage specialists, information is available for the massage therapy field as a whole. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted faster-than-average job growth of around 23% for massage therapists in the 2012-2022 decade. Furthermore, it was projected that the best opportunities would be available for trained, licensed therapists with experience.

The BLS also reported that the median annual wage for massage therapists overall, not just sports massage therapists, was about $37,000 in 2014. According to the most recent data available from in September of 2015, the majority of all massage therapists earned between $22,000 and $106,000 annually.

Training Requirements

As of 2011, the massage therapy industry was regulated in 43 states, requiring licensure for all types of massage therapists. Postsecondary training programs are required for licensure in most states. These programs generally include 500 or more hours of training and experience, including courses in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology and ethics as well as hands-on practice. Massage therapists who wish to become sports massage specialists may take additional courses in areas such as sports massage theory, performance enhancement techniques, cramp relief techniques, stretching techniques and injury risk-reduction techniques.

To earn a license, massage therapists must usually pass a test after their training programs are complete. Regulations vary by state, and some states have their own tests, but many rely on one of the two national massage therapy exams. These include the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) and the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEX).

Job Postings from Real Employers

Sports massage specialists can work in a variety of settings, from sports medicine clinics to fitness centers to rehab facilities and more. Whatever the setting, ideal candidates must be licensed, knowledgeable about sports massage techniques and willing to work a flexible schedule. Here are a few examples of job postings from real employers in March 2012:

  • An alternative sports medicine clinic in Washington needs a licensed massage therapist with a strong interest in sports massage. The ideal candidate will be responsible, ethical and professional and will carry current liability insurance. A willingness to assist with marketing is also required.
  • An athletic club in California is seeking an experienced, certified, part-time massage therapist to work at least two shifts per week, including Saturday or Sunday. Applicants must have at least 800 hours of massage education, at least 1500 professional massages and experience forming treatment plans, healing injuries and referring to healthcare professionals as well as the ability to teach clients stretching techniques.
  • A Texas wellness clinic is looking for a licensed massage therapist. Candidates should have experience in sports massage and Active Release Therapy (ART).
  • A full-service sports rehab clinic in Dallas seeks a massage therapist for its facility inside an upscale fitness center. Preferred certifications include Active Release, myofascial release and muscle activation techniques.

How to Beat the Competition

The American Massage Therapy Association makes several recommendations for massage therapists who wish to practice sports massage. They recommend that therapists have a stronger-than-average knowledge of anatomy and physiology and other medical assessment areas. They also recommend sports massage therapists keep abreast of the most current research and trends in the field. In addition, sports massage specialists should understand sports and the potential injuries that are likely to occur during participation in sports. Being a good communicator, strong team player and flexible employee can also help sports massage specialists stand out in the field.

Continuing Education

Another way to stand out in the field of sports massage is through continuing education. Organizations such as the American Massage Therapy Association and The Sports Massage Association offer continuing education courses related to sports massage. More massage therapy schools are also offering specializations in sports massage due to growing demand. Continuing education courses that can further a sports massage specialist's career include classes in myofascial or Active Release therapies, positional release, trigger point techniques, lymphatic techniques and use of technology (e.g. ultrasound, TENS, etc.) in massage.

Other Careers to Consider

Athletic Trainer

If you're interested in sports, but becoming a sports massage specialist doesn't seem right for you, consider becoming an athletic trainer. Athletic trainers help athletes with conditioning and help prevent and treat injuries. Compared with becoming a sports massage specialist, this position requires more schooling - at least a bachelor's degree and often a master's degree - but it offers strong job growth, predicted to be about 30% between 2010 and 2020.

In addition, in 2011 the BLS reported the median annual salary was about $42,000, higher than that of sports massage specialists. The best job prospects for athletic trainers will be in high school and healthcare settings, since competition is often keen for positions in colleges and with professional teams.

Physical Therapy Assistant

Another viable option is a career as a physical therapy assistant. You can enter this field with just an associate's degree, and the median annual salary was reported as about $51,000 by the BLS in 2011. In addition, job prospects are projected to be excellent, with projected job growth of 45% between 2010 and 2020. Physical therapy assistants help therapists improve mobility, relieve pain and teach patients to overcome disabilities. Most jobs are found in doctors' offices or hospitals, and a license is required in most states prior to employment.

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