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What is a Massage Therapist?

Before you consider treatment with a massage therapist for your back pain relief, let’s first consider the training for a “massage therapist” and his/her overall qualifications.  Most often the training is overdone and made to be way more complicated than it needs to be. 

No doubt this is in part an attempt to justify an overpriced “tuition” and the hefty cost associated with it.  Once a student graduates from a massage therapy course, most programs issue a certificate.  Not a license (this does vary from state to state).  The certificate is used to show course completion and allows the graduate to obtain malpractice insurance. 

Because message therapy graduates are only receiving a certification, the massage schools are mainly unregulated   In truth, anyone could open a massage therapy school and issue a certificate of completion from the “John Doe” school of massage therapy.

Without licensure, massage therapy schools in general are unable to ensure that individuals have met the eligibility requirements necessary to practice massage therapy.  While many states have “massage therapy practice laws,” it does not constitute a license and the AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) is diligently fighting for legal recognition.

Until legal recognition is achieved via licensure, no formal education or training can be enforced and creating a standard of minimum competency becomes impossible.

Some states that now offer a Massage therapy license at the completion of study. However, this is provided without an examination by the state. Therefore, it is still uncertain as to the competency of the individual holding the "license" making its value negligible to say the least.

Symptomatic Pain Relief Treatment

While back pain may cause muscles in your lower back to tighten or spasm as a result of the medical diagnosis obtained by your physician, a massage may only serve to symptomatically alleviate your condition temporarily.  And considering the unregulated training that a massage therapist receives, the potential for symptom exacerbation is quite apparent and so using such services should be done with extreme caution.  The last thing you want to do is make your condition worse!

There is nothing a massage therapist can do to cure or fix your bulging disc back pain, period.  They cannot massage your “disc” into place anymore than a chiropractor can manipulate it into place.  So given the benefit to reward ratio, it would seem that risking potential exacerbation of your condition for temporary symptomatic pain relief just does not add up.  It simply isn’t worth the potential risk.

As a massage therapist does exacerbate or make your condition worse, you have no real recourse because again, they are not licensed.  He or she will continue to go on “treating” clients under the pseudo professional guise of a “therapist” without due diligence.  They become free to commit potential harmful acts again and again on different people who mistakenly give over their trust.  Mostly out of desperation for a cure or to be forever fixed.

As a practicing physical therapist for many years, I have seen firsthand the harmful effects that some massage therapist have either contributed or caused to unsuspecting individuals.  Massage therapists often over step their bounds (which are not clearly outlined since they have no license), and in the process do more harm.  While it is not without good intentions, such attempts at treatment for a bulging disc back pain should be left to the professionals.  That is, licensed medical professionals practicing within the scope of their practice agreements and who have met set standards outlined by his/her governing state.

For the proper diagnosis and treatment, seek the attention of your medical professional.


Tommy Hoffman, P.T. By Tommy Hoffman, Licensed Physical Therapist


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