How to Become a Massage Therapist

Do you dream of a job in a peaceful environment where your work makes a real difference in the lives of others? Do you enjoy working with your hands? Can you connect with people and put them at ease while still maintaining a professional demeanor? If so, massage therapy may be right for you! Read on to learn how to become a massage therapist in Oregon.

Figuring out that you want to become a massage therapist is the first step. Next, you must apply to accredited massage schools in your preferred area, and with the academic programs you desire. Following acceptance into a program, you must complete the classes and hands-on clinical work required by your state. Each state has unique requirements for massage therapist licensure. The last step is to pass state licensure test. Below, we cover these steps in more detail.

An Eagle Eye’s View of How to Become a Massage Therapist

  1. Take our Massage Career Readiness Quiz.
    This is the beginning of your self-inquiry about massage therapy. We also recommend that you speak with family and friends, read online articles about becoming a massage therapist, and thoroughly educate yourself on the pros and cons of this healing career path. Understanding your own dreams and goals is important at this stage, as you visualize yourself working in one of the many environments where massage therapy happens (everywhere from spas and clinics to sports fields and cruise ships). Finally, you’re ready to reach out to admissions departments and begin touring massage school campuses.
  1. Complete the Admissions Process at Accredited Massage School(s)
    Get in touch with the admissions departments of the schools on your list. Admissions team members can answer questions, discuss your eligibility, talk about transfer credits, and more. As you pencil out your readiness for massage school, tour campuses and compare facilities. We recommend prioritizing accredited schools with on-site massage clinics. There, massage students can hone their craft under the guidance of experienced teachers. Finally, once you’re certain on which schools will work for you, it’s time to apply. At East West College, we offer an online application form.
  2. Complete Classes and Clinical Work for an Accredited Massage Program.
    Having been accepted into a program of your choice, it’s time to hit the books! While each school’s approach is different, there are certain quality signposts you should see in all programs, including clinical work, classes grounded in body science, and a high ratio of program graduates successfully passing state exams.

East West College’s prestigious COMTA-accredited massage therapy program kicks off with introductory classes on Swedish massage techniques, kinesiology and anatomy foundations, and how to create healthy therapeutic relationships with clients. In the second term, East West students dive deeper into physiology, pathology, and anatomy while also adding western massage and bodywork modalities. The third quarter sees East West College students expanding and applying their learning to conditions and disorders often found in massage practice. Eastern and energetic massage techniques are also covered in this quarter, as students also prepare for clinical work in quarter four. This last quarter includes plenty of clinical practice as well as bodywork electives and massage therapy business basics. Fourth quarter East West College students also learn about providing massage therapy to special populations, such as athletes and the elderly. Learn more about our massage school’s program here, where you’ll find our list of goals for students as well as more on class options.

  1. Pass State Licensure Requirements.
    Having graduated from an accredited massage school, the final obstacle to working as a massage therapist is to pass the state’s licensing exam. Earning a massage therapist license in the state of Oregon includes three components: 1. 625 hours of required massage education; 2. A passing score in a national massage certification test such as the MBLEX or the NCBTMB; and 3. A passing score for the Oregon jurisprudence (law) exam for massage therapy. Oregon also requires background fingerprinting for first-time massage therapy license applicants.

We hope that this basic outline has spurred your determination to achieve your massage therapy career goals! Massage therapists are famous for enjoying their work. To learn more about how to make this rewarding career path your own, call us today at 503-233-6500.

Cupping Therapy 101: How it Works, What Benefits it Brings

Quick: Picture students partaking in a class at a massage training school. You likely envision people using their thumbs, fingers, and elbows to press into muscles. Or perhaps, if you’ve ever experienced Thai Massage, you might see the therapists-in-training using their full bodies on clients, pulling and pressing while in yoga-like postures. For most massage modalities, this understanding of pressing into tissue to relieve pain and tension is correct. Cupping is an exception.

While most manual therapies use downward pressure to alleviate muscle adhesions, cupping uses suction to pull tissues up. As an analogy, think of a dirty rug. You could use a broom to press into the rug fibers, sweeping away any debris. Or you could use a vacuum to suck dirt up and away. Both techniques can be effective ways to clean. They are just different approaches. Similarly, traditional manual massage and cupping both work to dislodge debris and loosen adhesions in the body.

Like most Chinese healing techniques, cupping dates back thousands of years. The first mention of cupping can be found in a book titled A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies, dated 300 CE.
Here’s how the method works: The practitioner uses bamboo jars or glass cups as suction devices positioned on the skin. Acupuncturists may use fire to create a vacuum within the vessels. The fire consumes the oxygen in the cup. In a massage class, you might see therapists using silicone suction or plastic pump cups instead.

Cups may be held in one place, or slid along the skin like a moving vacuum – called “gliding cupping” or “moving cupping.” The practitioner uses his or her understanding of Chinese meridians to place cups effectively. In this way, cupping is similar to acupuncture and Amma therapy.

Benefits of Cupping

–Stimulates blood flow.

–Loosen muscles.

–Relieves pain.

–Reduces stress.

Many clients report that cupping helps alleviate migraines, anxiety, fatigue, and more. In China, cupping is often used to treat lung disorders such as asthma. It is also a popular therapy for gastrointestinal disorders.
While the bruises that sometimes follow cupping may appear painful, the treatment is actually quite enjoyable and relaxing for most recipients. Like other massage modalities, cupping soothes the nervous system, creating a parasympathetic “rest and digest” response, dropping blood pressure and inducing deep relaxation.

Hunting for massage schools in Portland that offer cupping classes? Look no further. Our continuing education offerings include cupping instruction. To find a cupping workshop, head over to our continuing education page.

Massage Therapy Modalities: Structural Bodywork

In our series on massage modalities, we’ve covered Thai massage, trigger point therapy, and Tui Na. Today we’re looking at a different form of massage: Structural Bodywork. At its crux, structural bodywork explores and offsets imbalances within the body.

The mother of structural bodywork is Ida Rolf. Ida Rolf was a biochemist, yoga teacher, manual therapist, and sensorimotor educator who had a holistic vision of health. Her focus as a healer was to improve overall biochemical functioning, rather than treating certain systems. Rolf’s creation, Structural Integration, improves health by improving the human body’s structure in relation to gravity.
Within this school, fascia tissue is a major focus. This tissue wraps around all the muscles, bones, joints, and organs in your body, holding them in place and providing structure. Fascia also communicates neural signals, transmits force and provides stability across muscle groups. You can imagine fascia as a 3D spider web within the body.

This way of thinking stands in contrast to the more traditional understanding of the body, which structural specialist Thomas Meyers calls “the isolated muscle theory.” Open up an anatomy textbook, and chances are it will outline muscles according to distil and proximal insertion points, with the implication that each muscle is working on its own, doing little more than connecting these two points. Structural integration theories, including Rolfing and structural massage, instead posit that muscles and connective tissues work in harmony to connect continuous tissue pathways across the body, and that injuries and restrictions in one section of this pathway will have and effect along the entire pathway. Therefore, by focusing on lines of associated connective tissue and muscle—“Anatomy Trains,” in Meyers’ thinking—therapists can uncover and equalize postural imbalances.

Many therapists appreciate the holistic approach of structural bodywork. The mind/body connection is central to this massage modality, as our emotional experiences can cause habitual physical responses, leading to adhesions, restrictions in movement, and eventually compromised connective tissue meridians. Those nasty knots you feel in your back during rush-hour traffic or after a long day at the desk are “stuck points” in the muscle and connective tissue. Over time, those knots will throw off your posture and somewhere the body’s structural tissues will need to compensate.

Benefits of Structural Bodywork

Pain Relief. By analyzing and adjusting imbalanced connective tissue, therapists can alleviate the pain of over- or under-worked muscle groups.

Increased Range of Motion. After a structural bodywork session, clients often feel freer in their bodies and smoother in their movements.

Emotional Release. Stress and trauma are deposited in the body—like the saying goes, “The issues are in the tissues.” By releasing stuck patterning in the body, structural bodywork can also allow clients to let go of the emotional experiences that caused anatomical restriction in the first place.

Want to learn more about structural bodywork? Sing up for a massage therapy training. As one of the leading massage therapy schools in Oregon, we regularly host classes on Thomas Meyer’s Anatomy Trains and other structural bodywork approaches. To find a course that fits your schedule, check out the upcoming continuing education courses at our Oregon school of massage.

The Benefits of Volunteering Your Massage Therapy Services

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” LMTs have many opportunities to volunteer, from providing hospice massage to providing massage therapy for homeless youths. But why would you want to practice your craft for free, when you can get paid for it? Well, that’s a totally legitimate question. Read on to discover some of the many benefits massage therapists can enjoy from volunteer work.

Portland Massage Therapy School’s Top Benefits of Volunteering:

Volunteering Zaps Stagnation.

Every profession includes boredom from time to time. If you feel stuck in a rut in your massage practice, sign up for a volunteer event. It will give you a new perspective and leave you feeling fresh and energized.

Volunteering Leads to Networking.

Volunteering gives you the chance to connect with other massage therapists as well as potential new clients. Moreover, you may have the chance to connect with professionals in other fields who may be willing to partner with you on new projects and referrals.

Volunteering is Good for Your Health.

As Harvard Health explains, volunteering can keep you healthy. It wards off depression and loneliness. Regular volunteers often report getting more out of the volunteer experience than what they put into it. A Carnegie Mellon study even found that volunteering can improve your physical health, finding that those who volunteered more than 200 hours per year had lower blood pressure than those who did not.

Volunteering Promotes Massage as a Healing Modality.

When you volunteer your massage therapy services, you expose new people to the wonders of massage. You are helping to promote the profession as a whole by giving massage to the uninitiated—people who probably wouldn’t pay for a massage normally. After just a few minutes of healing touch, those individuals are more likely to make a massage appointment in the future.

Volunteering Opens New Professional Pathways.

Volunteering is an excellent way to break into a new style of massage. Let’s say Swedish massage is old hat for you, but you’d like to break into sports massage therapy. Volunteering your time for sports massage can give you a chance to build confidence in this new healing modality.

Looking for an engaging, fun volunteer opportunity? How about the Portland Dragon Boat races? On September 12th and 13th, East West College will be participating in the famous Portland Dragon Boat Festival by facilitating on-site sports massage. We are currently looking for East West alumni LMTs and advanced students (terms 3, 4, and 5) to volunteer their services at this memorable event. Please contact Dara Bryant at dbryant@eastwestcollege.edu or 503-233-6500 ext. 225 to sign up for a volunteer shift.

Reflexology: Intro to this Massage Modality

Reflexology is an ancient manual healing method in which acupressure points on the feet, hands, and/or ears are compressed to alleviate pain and treat medical problems. Although there is little academic evidence that reflexology treats specific medical conditions beyond a placebo response, this ancient practice has been relieving pain and other stress-related conditions for thousands of years. Remember, a placebo brings healing about half of the time; 1 out of every 2 patients on a placebo see positive health results. As in many CAM therapies, many accredited massage schools offer reflexology courses because this healing modality has brought relief to patients across the globe.

Massage therapists who add reflexology to their repertoire may serve spa clients or anyone looking to relax. This approach is less common among LMTs, so those with Reflexology training tend to receive client referrals for their unique skill. Let’s take a look at the history of Reflexology, and how it works.

Introducing Reflexology

Reflexology first appeared in ancient Egypt, India, and China. Some say the first appearance of Reflexology is found in a 2330 BC Egyptian medical pictograph found in the tomb of Ankhamor. Others point to reflexology symbols on the feet of Buddha statues in India and China. The first written recording of Reflexology dates to 1,000 BC; the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine contains a chapter on the “Examining Foot Method.” This is the earliest title suggesting a connection between life force and zones on the feet. Marco Polo translated been the first to translate a Chinese massage book into a Romance language (Italian); thanks to him, Reflexology entered European awareness in 1300. In the 20th century, American healers such as Eugene Ingham developed modern foot maps and reflexology charts.

During a reflexology session, the therapist applies pressure to parts of the feet, hands, and ears with the intention of improving health in referring organs. For instance, if a patient is complaining of urinary problems, the reflexology practitioner might refer to his or her foot map, find the bladder point within the foot’s arch, and apply pressure there.

The foot, hand, and ear charts used in reflexology do not directly correspond with the Meridian lines found in other forms of Eastern medicine. This is a unique system that has become quite popular in Europe, particularly Denmark.

Benefits of Reflexology

While there is limited research on reflexology, clients often report the following advantages:

–Pain relief for Cancer patients.
–Decreased pain in the neck, shoulders, and back.
–Alleviation of stress.

If you’re interested in adding Reflexology to your massage offerings, consider taking learning about it through East West College’s massage continuing education courses. While we do no offer a distinct massage certification program in reflexology, we do regularly offer reflexology classes to the LMT community.

Client Populations: Working with Elderly Patients


Massage careers can take practitioners all over the world, to all manner of settings. However, when envisioning a post-massage certification career path, the common image is that of a healthy middle-aged person receiving a basic Swedish massage. Reality is much larger in scope. In this series we will be discussing how to work with different client populations- in all ages and stages of life. We kick things off with a discussion of geriatric massage, including its challenges, effective techniques, and benefits.

Challenges Massaging Elderly Clients

Elderly clients can often be intimidating to massage, due to their unique health conditions and physical needs. Older folks who suffer from joint, cardiac, or respiratory conditions may be unable to lie down on the treatment table; or turning over on the side or stomach may be difficult. Older skin and muscles may be delicate. Clients may have greater difficulty undressing. They may have other medical conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes or stroke. Massage for the elderly can be like passive exercise, which may be felt more intensely in older bodies.

Effective Massage Approaches with Older Clients

Rather than assuming massaging the elderly is just a lighter form of Swedish massage, or conversely, refusing elderly clients until you get a medical massage certificate, consider implementing the following approaches and adaptations into your work with elderly clients:

–Learn to do a whole massage with the person supine for 30 minutes in duration.
–Take some time to research the physiology, psychology, and sociology of aging so that you can be more informed about the potential experience of your client.
–Learn as much as possible about your client during the intake. Discover their medical conditions, current medications that may impact skin and muscles, and exact locations of discomfort and pain. Take the time to find out exactly what your clients need.
–Find out as much as you can about how their conditions may impact your treatment. For example, if they have osteoporosis you would not use deep pressure or shiatsu. Likewise, pressure would be unwise for patients on anti-coagulant medications that cause easy bruising.
–Take your time. Slow way down. Allow much more time for clients to get undressed and get on the table. Allot time to help escort them out to the lobby or even to their car if necessary. Slow down and get to know their needs.

Benefits For LMTs of Working with Elderly Patients

There are many benefits from working with elderly clients. First, adapting to older bodies can deepen your practice as a massage therapist and help you learn new and creative approaches. It may broaden your expertise, thus open up a new door for elderly clientele. Massage can is also a powerful therapeutic healing tool for this population, as for all of us, because it helps decrease stress and increase comfort.  Even if a massage experience consists of simply having specialty oil rubbed onto dry skin, massage may deeply transform and enrich the lives of elderly folks.

Tui Na: Introduction to this Modality

West coast massage schools including East West College offer instruction in a variety of massage modalities. To give our readers insight into different types of massage, we have written on trigger point therapy, cranio-sacral therapy, and Thai massage. Today we’re looking into Tui Na, a Chinese form of manipulative therapy.

Introducing Tui Na: Ancient Chinese Massage Therapy

Tui Na features some manual methods found Western massage styles, but adds acupressure to remove blockages in muscles and energy pathways (called Meridians in Chinese medicine). This massage approach dates back thousands of years to ancient China. It may be used in tandem with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

One receiving a Tui Na massage would experience rhythmic compression along meridian channels to free the flow of Qi (life energy). Manual techniques in Tui Na may include kneading, tapotement, gliding, rolling, shaking, pulling, and creating friction. Massage clients who receive Tui Na often feel relaxed and also energized at the end of their session.

Benefits of Tui Na
:

–Can relieve pain in hips, back, neck, ankles, shoulders, arms, legs, and elsewhere.
–May also alleviate stress disorders such as insomnia, constipation, and headaches.
–Improves overall balance in mental and physical well being.
–Can help patients avoid the side effects of pharmaceutical drug treatments by relieving pain through manual methods.

Want to become a massage therapist? Know that successful careers in massage therapy often involve specialization in a certain massage approach. Some LMTs succeed through specialization in Tui Na, while others may use Tui Na as a compliment to Western massage styles, such as Swedish massage. Ultimately, the massage therapist with a range of healing tools to pick from will succeed in delighting and healing clients.
If you’d like to get a personal feel for Tui Na, we recommend booking an appointment through our on-campus massage clinic. Our alumni massage therapists can deliver an effective, refreshing Tui Na massage to give you insight into how this therapy works.

Why Breathing is so Important During Massage

Deep breathing supports and enhances the goals of massage therapy as taught in massage training school. Often called abdominal breathing or belly breathing, deep breathing promotes blood flow, increases the effectiveness of the lymphatic system, and supports organ detoxification. Moreover, abdominal breathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, and can be used at any time to decrease stress and tension. Deep breathing promotes physical relaxation, the goal of every massage client.

Implementing Deep Breathing into Massage Therapy

Teaching and modeling deep breathing for massage clients can benefit them on and off the table, potentially leading to a life of less pain and stress. In a 2010 study comparing the pain response of women with fibromyalgia and women in good health, both groups reported a lower intensity of pain and reduced emotional discomfort when utilizing slow, deep breath.

Author Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “We must go back to the present moment in order to be really alive. When we practice conscious breathing, we practice going back to the present moment where everything is happening.” By being in the present moment with your client, while also encouraging them to be in the present moment through deep relaxed breath, the healing and benefits of massage are expanded and supported.

Deep Breathing and your Massage Practice

Helping massage clients learn deep breathing techniques, such as expanding the breath into the belly and chest, will help to relax the muscles and bring a deeper sense of calm. If a client finds it difficult to apply these techniques, practitioners may focus their massage on the chest and abdominal muscles to relax this area.

Like yawning, deep breathing is contagious.  Practitioners may demonstrate breathing through taking slow, deep breaths during the massage.

The best and most effective massage therapist schooling will cover breathing techniques and how to incorporate these techniques into therapeutic massage. If you’re contemplating a NW massage therapy school, consider the school’s emphasis on healing and the breath-body connection. Take an introductory class, tour campus, and chat with admissions officers about course content. Find out if the school teaches students about the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and how deep breathing and massage both serve to activate the “rest and digest” relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Here at East West College, we cover this information in our anatomy and kinesiology courses. Call our admissions office today at 503-233-6500 to learn more.

Massage Therapy Modalities: Trigger Point Therapy

Muscle pain is one of the most common medical complaints, whether it’s chronic low back pain, or sore muscles from working in the garden. In fact, according to a recent AMTA survey, 30% of respondents have used massage therapy for pain relief. When working with clients who experience pain, it’s helpful to have many different strategies for helping them recover. Trigger point work is often an effective way of decreasing or eliminating pain. Our massage school in Portland, Oregon offers trigger point therapy as an elective course in our 800-hour massage therapy program. In this blog, we’re introducing trigger point therapy and outlining its benefits.

Introducing Trigger Point Therapy

If you’ve ever experienced a muscle “knot,” you have had a trigger point. Each myofascial trigger point is a space of extreme tightness in the body—an isolated muscle spasm that is continually contracted. This limits circulation because continually activated muscles cannot receive ideal blood flow. As a “knot” tightens, it holds onto more metabolic waste and also creates pain—sometimes quite intense pain. In coining the term “trigger point” in 1942, Dr. Janet Travel identified a trigger point as a discrete point in the body that could be felt as a nodule or band. Additionally, she noted that stimulating a trigger point often creates a twitch response.

On their own, trigger points can create nagging pain. They can also complicate injuries. For instance, if you injure your arm, your shoulder may work extra hard to prevent painful movement, and a trigger point may be formed as the shoulder is overburdened.

Moreover, trigger points may cause localized or referred pain (i.e., pain that arises due to a problem in one location but is felt in another part of the body). So, a trigger point in the back caused by poor posture may refer pain to the neck, creating a second trigger point. Together, these “knots” may create tension in the head and lead to headaches.

This information is largely accepted among bodyworkers, including physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists. However, in the general medical community, the concept of trigger point therapy remains controversial, as there is little formal scientific data to support the concept. Still, every therapist who specializes in trigger point therapy can tell you stories of clients whose long-term pain was quickly alleviated through this massage modality.

In practice, trigger point therapy involves delivering and releasing isolated pressure. The recipient of trigger point therapy may be invited to breathe deeply to help soften around tight spots. Finally, the massage client may be asked to help identify the location of the trigger point.

Trigger Point Massage Therapy
 is often an effective treatment for headaches, carpel-tunnel-ish pain, arm numbness, jaw pain, low back pain, sciatica, osteoarthritis, and more. Here are a few more benefits of receiving trigger point massage therapy:

–Release accumulated toxins
–Enjoy increased range of motion
–Improve circulation
–Decrease muscle spasms
–Alleviate pain and stiffness
–Increase flexibility

Those who have experienced seemingly inexplicable, long-term pain can greatly benefit from trigger point massage therapy.

If you’re interested in adding this modality to your massage practice, keep an eye on our  continuing education courses. We consistently offer courses on myofascial release, including trigger point therapy.

East West College Hosts the AMTA-OR Conference

Our northwest massage school is proud to have hosted this year’s American Massage Therapy Association of Oregon conference! On April 24th and 25th, licensed massage therapists from across the state attended the AMTA-OR conference to earn message therapy continuing education credits, and to polish their skills. An East West College instructor contributed to the conference by facilitating a session on spa modalities.

The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is the nation’s largest non-profit organization serving massage schools, massage therapists, and massage students. Among the many roles that the AMTA serves, the organization promotes massage to the general public; lobbies for just massage therapy licensing across all fifty states; and supports massage therapy research.

The Oregon chapter of the AMTA offers additional resources and support for Beaver State LMT’s. The Oregon AMTA wields a professional lobbyist to represent therapists’ interests in Salem. AMTA-OR also maintains a quarterly newsletter and website with useful information for LMTs, among other chapter activities.

Featured classes at the AMTA-OR conference included Structural Relief Therapy for the Shoulder, Arm & Hand; The Ethics of Client Communication; Sports Massage (for those interested in working with professional athletes); Make research Relevant to Me (for those wanting to learn how to apply research to their practice); and finally, Therapeutic Benefits of Spa Modalities in Massage Practice—with our very own Sarah B. Davis!

The conference occurred on April 24th from 5-9pm and on April 25th from 7am-6pm.  For more information, including a detailed schedule, please visit the AMTA-OR website. We enjoyed hosting the Oregon AMTA conference, where Portland massage therapy practitioners and educators gathered for learning, networking, and community support.