Do Massage Therapists Need to Know about Anatomy?


Are you interested in becoming a massage therapist? Did you know that it is one of the most rewarding career fields? It offers respite and relief for people suffering from physical and emotional ailments. Ultimately, you get to help others and learn a new vocation at the same time, it’s a win-win.

Massage therapy involves the treatment of specific areas on the body, while also healing the mind and the spirit. Massage therapy is a unique field, as it combines art and science to provide maximum benefit and therapeutic relief for clients. It is one of the most rewarding career fields today and is projected to grow 32 percent over the coming decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You will learn a lot during a massage therapy program including anatomy and many different massage therapy techniques.

Do Massage Therapists Need to Know about Anatomy?

Because massage therapy benefits every system in the human body, learning about anatomy is a critical skill. During your training in massage therapy, you will learn all about anatomy and physiology as well as many of the benefits and massage techniques that go along with the training massage therapy. Massage therapy can have a beneficial impact on many body systems including:

Circulatory System

Made up of blood vessels that carry blood toward and away from the heart, the circulatory system delivers oxygen to help tissues, while getting rid of waste products. Massage promotes healthy blood flow throughout the body. It can also help remove toxins from the muscles and tissue.

Respiratory System

A network of organs and tissues that help human’s breath, the respiratory system helps move oxygen throughout the body, within the nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. Massage can increase lung capacity and promote deep breathing. This breathing can also reduce stress and tension on the body and improve sleep.

Lymphatic System

A network of tissues, vessels and organs that work to bring lymph back into the bloodstream. Lymph fluid passes through the lymph nodes and helps protect the body from infection and disease. Massage promotes the effective flow of bodily fluids, including lymph fluids to help clients relieve stress and boost their immune system.

Muscular System

Made up of the skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle tissues, the muscular system attaches to the skeleton, allowing our body to move. While the heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, massage can help reduce blood pressure, increase blood flow, and introduce additional oxygen to the bloodstream to aid the heart as it removes carbon dioxide from the body’s blood. Massage can also relieve muscle tension and remove lactic acid buildup in the muscles.

Gastrointestinal (Digestive) System

The gastrointestinal system is made up of the GI tract that includes the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. The overall digestive system also includes the salivary glands, mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, and rectum. These organs help the body digest food, utilizing vitamins and nutrients to help keep the body healthy, while at the same time disposing of the waste. Massage assists the digestive system by reducing inflammation, relieving tension, and helping clients with the stress of constipation.

Skeletal System

Made up of the bones and connective tissues that form the body’s central framework. In conjunction with muscles, the skeleton helps the body stay upright and move in many different ways. Massage enhances flexibility, increases range of motion, and promotes healthy muscles, tissues, and bones.

Urinary System

The urinary system helps remove waste material and other byproducts from the body by expelling it through urination to prevent blood toxicity. Massage can engage the urinary tract and help increase urinary output. Reducing the fluid retention with massage is also important for a healthy heart.

Endocrine System

Responsible for producing and distributing the body’s hormones, the system must stay in balance otherwise the client can experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Massage can help restore the proper balance of oxytocin, cortisol, serotonin, dopamine, and other important hormones, helping the body maintain appropriate hormone levels.

Nervous System

Comprised of the brain and spinal cord, the nervous system helps the body transmit, receive, and process information. Massage enhances the senses and promotes healthy functioning of neural pathways. It can also help release oxytocin and other “feel good”hormones to improve relaxation of the brain, decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, and enhance the brain’s mood.

Why Learn Anatomy During a Massage Therapy Program?

Because effective massage therapy is dependent upon achieving physical relief, it is essential that you have a good grasp on the human body and a thorough understanding of anatomy. There is much more to massage therapy than just simply “rubbing the pain away.” Understanding the ways in which various muscle groups are connected will help you identify the source of a client’s pain or discomfort.

Every client is unique, and your symptom management techniques might affect each client differently. As a well-trained massage therapist, you will understand this, and work closely with each client to deliver a session that is customized to meet their needs. Lastly, there are many different massage therapy techniques, with each technique being unique in delivery and experience. Therefore, it is important to understand how human anatomy responds when utilizing various techniques and modalities.

Massage Therapists Train in a Variety of Techniques

There are many different therapeutic techniques to learn during a massage therapy program. Each has established protocol and specific purposes. These are the most common massage techniques you will learn during a massage therapy program. They include:

Swedish Massage

Swedish Massage is the basis of most massage therapy including deep tissue massage and chair massage. Swedish massage techniques aid in the circulation of blood and lymph, relaxing

muscles, improving joint mobility, and inducing general relaxation. The specific massage strokes included in Swedish massage are effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, and vibration. Each Swedish massage technique produces a different effect that aids in the decrease of muscle tension and improve relaxation.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage mirrors that of Swedish massage. However, deep tissue massage also involves the use of deeper pressure and trigger point therapy. Trigger points can be felt as knots or bands of tissue that elicit pain if pressed. These knots of pain can align with other areas of the body. The deactivation of trigger points allows muscle tension to decrease and improve blood flow to the muscle.

Sports Massage

This type of technique is used among athletes or anyone that exercises and does repetitive tasks. Sports massage is known to alleviate muscle tension associated with sports and exercise, and can also promote better sleep hygiene, increase flexibility, and improve a client’s range of motion. Many endurance athletes will seek out sports massages before or after an event.


Shiatsu is a technique known for its unique ability to balance physical and spiritual energy, as well as alleviate physical pain and discomfort. Shiatsu is perfect for clients who deal with anxiety, depression, or chronic stress. This massage technique is found to improve symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, like migraines and headaches. Shiatsu is a great technique to use for clients experiencing other ailments, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, digestive issues, and lower back pain.

Lymphatic Massage

A properly performed lymphatic drainage massage can provide several health benefits for the client. The lymph nodes are responsible for the effective draining and movement of bodily fluids throughout each system. Having a properly balanced flow of lymph fluids can improve one’s immune system, as well as promote deeper relaxation during a client’s appointment. This massage technique can also reduce muscle soreness and swelling due to fluid retention.

Cranial-Sacral Therapy

Many people identify issues involving the neck and head as having a significantly negative impact on their lives. Tension, anxiety, and other chronic conditions often appear in the form of physical symptoms such as headaches, stiff neck muscles, and other issues. Cranial-Sacral therapeutic techniques have become increasingly popular and is a popular treatment for clients experiencing these symptoms. Sessions usually last an hour, and involve a light, purposeful touch, as the massage therapist assesses each part of the body for tension and other energy imbalances.

Thai Massage

One of the oldest therapeutic techniques, Thai massage can significantly improve pain and tension throughout the body. Originating in India and dating back thousands of years. Thai massage involves active participation from the client, and is performed by using a variety of moves, pressure, and stretching techniques to facilitate total body relaxation. Clients will enjoy lower stress levels, increased energy, improved blood flow and circulation, as well as a better range of motion.

Final Thoughts

Knowing anatomy as a massage therapist will come in handy when it is time to create a massage treatment plan for clients. You will understand how massage affects each body system and help manage a client’s symptoms. In tandem with the different massage techniques, you will be able to help clients relieve pain, reduce stress, and enjoy life even better. Massage is a rewarding career, so take the first step and start training to become a massage therapist today.

Now that you know a little more about how massage and anatomy overlap, what to learn more about training to become a massage therapist? Upon graduation, Massage Therapy Program students will receive diplomas and be qualified to seek entry-level positions as clinical, medical, or deep tissue massage therapists in wellness clinics and centers, spa environments including resorts and franchises, and self-employment.

Gwinnett College also offers a degree program in Massage & Spa Management for students attending the Lilburn, GA campus. The Associate of Science Degree in Massage and Spa Operations is designed to provide you with the additional knowledge and practical skills to transition into positions of leadership within the spa environment or to better function as a proprietor of your own massage business. The program includes core curriculum courses specific to the practice of massage as well as courses to be used in the administration of a practice.

Contact us to learn more about how you can become a massage therapist today.