Not your grandpa's trade: Masseuse

Not Your Grandpa's Trade: Masseuse

Massage has long been a misunderstood and sometimes maligned profession. Though massage therapy is now known to be an excellent tool for managing health issues, there was a time when massage was seen as a less-than-respectable business -- quackery at best, illegal at worst. As massage therapy has moved into the mainstream, with masseuses working closely with physicians to help patients find relief from a wide variety of physical ailments, the public perception of the profession has changed for the better.

Masseuses then: A history of massage

Massage has been used for thousands of years as a way to relieve the body of pain, relax the muscles and promote a general state of well-being. Ancient drawings and writings depict massage therapy as employed by Hindus, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Chinese medical literature details massage use as early as 4,000 years ago, and the practice is still used today as part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Massage became widespread during the Renaissance and found popularity in the United States in the 19th century. The techniques of Swedish massage were introduced in the 1850s, with the first massage therapy clinic opening to the public, and many doctors began to practice the art of massage. But as medical technology and pharmaceuticals created faster ways to tackle health ailments, massage slowly fell out of favor.

Another factor in the decline of massage therapy was the misunderstanding of what massage really was. Unfortunately, the legitimate practice of massage was sometimes overshadowed by unsavory elements. Many prostitution rings would set up massage clinics as a front for their illegal activities. As a result, legitimate masseuses often found themselves forced to defend their work and its true benefits on a regular basis. Fortunately, that stigma has diminished greatly in recent years, and today massage therapists are seen as highly trained professionals providing a very acceptable and much-needed health service.

Masseuses now: What's changed?

By the 1970s, serious athletes recognized and utilized massage as a natural way to rejuvenate, repair and relieve the body of the aches and pains associated with a variety of sports. As patients began to look for more natural treatments for physical ailments, massage therapy became a front-line defense. Soon many patients were choosing massage and other natural remedies as their first option against pain, stress, anxiety and depression, rather than turning to pharmaceuticals or other medical interventions.

Today, massage therapy is seen as a very beneficial practice that works in conjunction with medical treatments to provide patients with the highest level of care. There are a wide variety of massage therapies available, meant to benefit everyone from infants to the elderly. Though massage was traditionally offered in the home or at massage therapy centers, today masseuses work in a wide variety of settings, including clinics, hospitals, sports centers and gyms, spas and even shopping malls.

Though masseuses become much more proficient at their craft with experience, education matters greatly in becoming a massage therapist. The practice of massage covers a wide range of different techniques, theories and movements. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports almost 100 massage and body work techniques. Learning each of these takes time and experience.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), massage therapists must usually complete a postsecondary education program of 500 hours or more before they can become a licensed massage therapist. Licensing and certification for massage therapists depends upon the state and local area in which the masseuse works. There could also be continuing education requirements.

As more patients recognize the benefits of massage and more doctors embrace it, job possibilities for masseuses are expected to grow. The BLS predicts 20 percent growth of masseuse positions from 2010 through 2020. The national median annual wage for massage therapists was $35,830 in 2011. Those in the top 10 percent earned $69,070 annually, and those in the lowest 10 percent earned $18,300 (BLS).