A Day in the Life of a Massage Therapist: A Closer Look at a Rewarding Healthcare Profession
Kevin Rebman, MS, BCTMB, NREMT
Massage therapists are fast-becoming an integral part of healthcare. More specifically, clinical massage therapists, who use techniques to help heal injuries, alleviate pain, and improve muscle function, are helping to meet the growing demand for noninvasive healthcare options.
What’s a day in the life for one of these massage therapists? Below, we provide a look with the help of massage therapist and Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) alum, Kevin Rebman, MS, BCTMB, NREMT.
A brief background on clinical massage therapist Kevin Rebman
Kevin is a former information technology specialist who spent decades working in the corporate world. When he became interested in a healthcare career, he attended NWHSU’s School of Massage Therapy.
In 2016, Kevin founded Return to Play Institute, an athlete-focused massage clinic with locations in Edina and St. Paul, Minn. Kevin and his staff of three massage therapists specialize in manual soft tissue therapy (soft tissue includes muscles, tendons, and ligaments). They apply massage techniques to help with everything from chronic pain relief and trauma recovery to post-surgical healing and sports performance improvement.
Getting ready for a successful day
Keeping the morning routine simple but effective. Kevin is an early riser and likes to arrive at work with plenty of time to spare. That’s why he keeps things simple. “Personal hygiene, something nutritious to eat, coffee—my morning routine isn’t complicated,” says Kevin. “But it is consistent, which helps me get to a mental place where I’m ready for the day.”
Absorbing news of the world. Kevin tries to catch up on the news and local events by listening to the radio during his commute. Picking up tidbits of information daily actually helps make his appointments go better. “During an appointment, massage therapists spend more time with a client than almost any other healthcare provider, so having some awareness of local and world events is essential to maintaining an active dialogue,” he says.
Staying motivated with the right mindset. Attitude is a crucial part of each day for Kevin, and he has a specific mindset that keeps him motivated. “I don’t look at the day as something to grind out, I approach it aggressively,” he says. “Then I try to think, ‘This could be the best day of my career because of the opportunities I’ll have to help my clients.’”
Stepping “on stage” for his clients. By the time clients start arriving, Kevin is ready to give each one his full attention. “I treat the day like any good performer would treat a role. Once I step ‘on stage’ as a massage therapist, everything else around me becomes secondary. I make each client my primary focus.”
Attending to the clients for the day
Kevin says he works more than the industry average, seeing as many as eight clients a day, six days a week, often using his “non-contact day” to address paperwork, external business meetings, and social media activities.“ Now, is working seven days a week what I want to do in the future? No,” he says. “I think for a good work-life balance, most full-time massage therapists should be seeing around five to six clients a day, five days a week.” Kevin puts in extra hours because, as he explains, he’s making a concerted effort to build up his business.
“You can actually look at this as one of the perks of owning a massage therapy clinic. I’m in control of how many hours I work. If I want to work more, I do. That freedom can be crucial for those who really want to establish a thriving business,” he says.
Using the appropriate modalities: A special note
Clinical massage therapists need to be proficient with many modalities, or massage techniques, says Kevin. “You can’t know them all, but think of the old adage that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You need to react effectively on the fly. Knowing and practicing a number of modalities lets you do that.”
How do you learn a variety of modalities? Kevin says to start with a great massage therapy school. For him, that’s why NWHSU was a good choice. “I not only received an excellent healthcare education on massage and soft tissues but was also exposed to various modalities because of the many electives available.”
These are just some examples of the electives that NWHSU’s School of Massage Therapy offers:
- SportGet massage
- Neuromuscular therapy
- Trauma-informed healthcare
- Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (such as cupping)
For Kevin, completing a massage therapy program was really just the first step. “Once you finish a program, you never want to stop learning. The more modalities you become familiar with, the better the massage therapist you can be.”
Seeing new clients
Kevin typically schedules a new client’s appointment for 90 minutes. He uses that time to sit down with the client and carefully fill out the intake form. “This is our opportunity to understand why they came to see us and what they expect. Setting expectations for better performance is different than recovery from a race yesterday or healing from surgery.”
During the first appointment, Kevin may also conduct manual muscle testing, check for range-of-motion issues, or have the client demonstrate the movement that causes the pain. For many new clients, Kevin carries out pre-treatment research on their sport or concern to better understand the client’s potential problem areas.
Then, it’s on to these steps:
Prioritizing the treatment expectations. “If there are several things to potentially work on, we prioritize the first issue, the second issue, and so on with the client. Generally, you want to figure out what’s most important to the client’s goals.”
Creating an individual treatment plan. Based on the information he’s gathered, Kevin will then suggest a treatment plan for the session and describe what he intends to do to help the client.
Getting them familiar with the process. Next, Kevin familiarizes the client with the massage room and explains in basic terms how an appointment will go.
Conducting an initial treatment. Kevin then administers the first actual massage treatment. This portion of the initial appointment can take approximately 60 minutes.
Having a post-treatment discussion. Kevin asks how the treatment felt and provides advice on what to expect following a massage. Every first-time client receives a reusable ice pack, which can be used to alleviate post-massage pain or swelling.
Planning for follow-up. Specific recommendations on when the client should return for follow-up appointments are a big part of the overall treatment scenario. Kevin often suggests subsequent appointments be one week apart for up to three sessions, after which he evaluates the progress at that point.
Understanding the duration of an appointment. The duration of a returning client’s appointment will depend on their specific therapeutic needs and the treatment plan that Kevin has designed for them. He does not typically do full body massages, where clients pay for—and expect—a specific number of massage minutes. Instead, he works entirely on the specific soft tissues he has concluded need attention. This involves whichever massage techniques he sees fit and could take from 30 to 60 minutes, or even 90 minutes in some cases
Conducting a typical treatment. At the beginning of an appointment, Kevin checks in with how the client’s progress is going. Depending on the client’s issues, that could take five to eight minutes. He then administers massage treatment. (See directly above for treatment duration.) After the treatment, Kevin asks for feedback from the client specifically related to the areas of concern—does it move better or feel less painful or stiff?
Allowing plenty of time between client appointments. “I don’t want to rush from one appointment to the next,” says Kevin. That’s why he usually plans for about 30 minutes between each one. Kevin says this isn’t the norm for most massage therapy establishments, but for him the extra time buffer creates a better experience for his clients. “I want them to feel like they have the time to have a real conversation with me.”
Why Kevin loves being a massage therapist
What does Kevin think about his career change to clinical massage therapy? “What I really wanted was to become a healthcare professional where I felt like I could really make a difference. This was definitely the right choice for me.”
Here are a few more reasons why Kevin loves being a massage therapist:
Being his own boss. Kevin enjoys the challenges of starting a business and growing it. “I’ve had the freedom to learn about the industry and gradually structure my business the way I want,” he says. “I couldn’t have done that working for someone else.”
Daily rewards. It’s rewarding to watch people improve as a direct result of massage therapy. “Maybe they can put their arm above their head when they couldn’t before. Or, they’ll call and say they’re back to full range of motion or are sleeping a lot better. I get to experience things like that every day,” says Kevin.
Offering a more natural healthcare path. Kevin specializes in working with young athletes. He values the opportunity he has to not only help them perform better but also to educate them. “I’m demonstrating to them that massage can sometimes be a better option than surgery or prescription medication. They’ll carry that knowledge with them, and I think they’ll be better athletes because of it.”
Your next step: Reach out for more information on massage therapy school
You’ve just gotten a glimpse of one successful massage therapist’s day—and learned why it’s been such a satisfying career choice for him. Could it be right for you?
If you’re exploring the massage therapy profession, this is an exciting time! Now take the next step. Reach out to NWHSU for personalized support on your path to becoming a massage therapist.