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Massage Therapist Career Saver Tips

Massage therapy is not just about technique. It is also very much about your health, your energy and your attitude.

As a massage therapist we have to protect our bodies and our energy. Our most precious tool is our body. If it malfunctions, our career can stop dead in its tracks. Sometimes we have to know when to say NO.

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My first exposure to potential problems in my new career

When I first started learning Thai Massage, we were taught many, actually way too many techniques that required strong pressure with the thumbs on legs, arms and back.

It only took me a few months of daily Thai Massage work to develop problems in my thumb joints. I soon realized that I had to use different techniques if I wanted to survive as a massage therapist.

How I turned a problem into an opportunity

As a result I developed several massage styles that are related to Thai Massage but are much easier on the thumbs and wrists.

So the original problem resulted in many new and innovative techniques which have contributed a lot to my success as a massage therapist and teacher. It happened because I said NO to all the thumb and wrist stressing methods.

Are you sure you can handle this client?

Occasionally someone requests a session from me who is very large, heavy and stiff. Over time I have come to terms with what I can do and what I need to stay away from.

As long as you are in private practice as a massage therapist, there is no obligation to work on anyone and everyone. However if you work in a hotel or spa, you generally don’t have as much choice who you work on.

massage clients In the early days of my career I thought I had to work on anyone who asked for a session. Today I am much more discriminating.

I make sure that my massage clients and myself are a reasonably good match, that my style of massage therapy is right for them, and that I feel I can be effective on a particular person.

I believe that this is an important reason why I am still going strong after two decades as a massage therapist.

What is a good massage session?

The result of a good session is that the client feels better. But if the therapist feels exhausted and drained with hurting wrists, then it was not a good session.

Both parties have to come out ahead. As a massage therapist you need to have your priorities straight, namely your health, your energy and your longevity as a practitioner.

The risk of burn out for a massage therapist

I have met quite a few massage therapists who burned out physically and energetically because they did not set their boundaries, did not manage their health and their energy, and they could not say NO.

If you work in a way that depletes your physical and mental energy, you live on borrowed time as a therapist.

massage therapist exercise program

What can you do about it?

There are quite a few things you can do to stay healthy and feeling good. They include exercise, meditation, Qigong, nature walks, enough sleep, yoga, healthy food and a myriad of other options.

All of them will help your longevity in this profession. Last but not least, you have to know when to say NO to too many sessions, too heavy clients, negative people and clients whom you do not resonate with.

A few reminders of  good habits for a massage therapist

  • Work with your entire body, not just with your arms
  • Use body weight instead of muscle power as much as possible
  • Learn how to improve your ergonomics
  • Get massage yourself regularly
  • Keep learning to remain inspired in your profession
  • If possible avoid working on clients who stress your body too much

What about the money?

You might think that this will result in less income. While this might be true in the short term, in the long run you will extend your career, you will preserve your health and you will keep your energy and enthusiasm high.

You will feel much better if you learn how to say NO sometimes. You will end up with a better and more dedicated circle of clients, more self confidence, a better quality of your massage work, and a happier career as a massage therapist.

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author's pictureThe author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.

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15 thoughts on “Massage Therapist Career Saver Tips”

  1. Thank you for the reminders, I really needed to see this today! Saying no is not easy for me but I am learning and your article reinforced what I know to be true about my body, my self and what I am capable of! I have aligned my career to include esthetic work, but still need to watch my body mechanics regardless if I am doing facials, waxing or massage!
    All my best and I really enjoy your articles!

  2. Absolutely, Shama! I always say that the best Thai Massage is as much about the health and well-being of the practitioner as it is about the welfare of the client. Otherwise its less than half as good. Great article.

  3. I couldn’t have read this at a better time. I’m experiencing some beginning pain in my left thenar and it’s entirely due to my bad bad tendency to overuse my thumbs, particularly in the thai work around and in the multifidi. Shame on me!! And thanks to YOU for your long distance reprimand!


    • That will of course depend on the situation. When you see a client for the first time, you won’t know how large they are, how easy or how hard they are to work on etc. But you do have a choice for the second time.

      You can either mention that you have no availability, or you can just be honest. Now you wouldn’t come out and say “hey buddy, you are too heavy or too fat”, of course. But you can say that you can see that they could use more power than you are able to provide, and that you can refer them to someone who would be better at providing exactly what they need.

      I am sure there are other polite ways of stating it depending on the client and the situation. Just remember you have no obligation to jeopardize your health for anyone. That needs to be your first consideration if you want to have staying power in this business.

      Another approach is that you can learn techniques which are better suited for working on much larger clients. This has always been my expertise, and this is reflected in all my training courses.

      Thai Massage lends itself to this better than other modalities since you can work very effectively with your body weight, and you can use hands, forearms, elbows, knees and feet. There are hundreds of techniques and variations to choose from, and I always try to present alternative techniques for working on different sizes and shapes of clients in my courses.

      • Thank you Shama! That was a very helpful explanation. I tend to stumble over my words sometimes and that gives me a direction to go in.

  4. namaste shama
    I have never met a heart warming person online with the character you portray. I hope to pursue a career in thai massage and you have been so informative in your online courses. god bless you and keep those hands strong.

  5. Hi Shama,

    I read all of your articles and find them so informative, thank you for sharing them with us. This one in particular resonated with me as I have been off work for 10 weeks due to severe tendinitis in my arm. The recovery is extremely slow and potential return to work is April/May 2020 , but my question is how do we overcome an injury and will our body ever be as good at providing massage as it once was? Thank you Laura

    • I am glad you like my articles.
      I believe that our bodies can overcome many issues as long as we support them properly. This can be in the form of a healthier diet, appropriate exercise, positive affirmations, enough rest, and various natural remedies, etc.

      There is of course the fact that we are running up against an aging process which can slow recovery time. Some conditions can be sufficiently reversed to allow us to continue our massage work, even if our body doesn’t revert 100% to how it was before.

      However sometimes we have to make adjustments in how we work. That’s one reason why I am such a proponent of Thai Massage which allows us to use our body in a much more creative way.

      We get to use more body parts, have more control of our body mechanics, and can be more effective with less effort. The biggie is that we use our hands a lot less than in table massage styles.

      There is of course no way to know if a particular condition will be totally healed over time or not. There are so many lifestyle factors and mental/emotional factors involved.

      And it depends on our ability to find the most effective methods to support our body with things like yoga, breathing, energy work, Qigong, visualization, herbs, and whatever else is available.

      There are plenty of people who have cured themselves of AIDS, cancer, and other degenerative diseases, so there is a good chance that we can do so if we put our minds to it.


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