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Regulations in Massage: Who benefits really?

by Lisa Rose March 07, 2015 0 Comments

Around 2007, while I was on a VTCT Swedish Massage course, the rumours were circulating that the massage industry would soon be legally regulated. Well it’s now 2015 and no official laws are in place. Whether that is seen as a good or bad thing may largely depend on your attitude to life in general. Massage was not something that had been regulated in any way before the last couple of decades, and there are those that believe that such regulations are encouraged by bodies representing large massage schools that may benefit from restriction of the competition; students would then have to invest in a whole lot of training which may or may not be useful for the actual therapy in practice. Some think these regulations are also just an excuse for the regulatory bodies to rake in a bit more cash. 
On the flip side, there are undoubtedly many people who feel that any practitioner must be authorised by a higher body in order to be perceived as safe to use. As within any industry, there is clearly a place for protecting customers from poor service, injury or inappropriate behaviour. But it’s unlikely that a therapist with inappropriate intentions would make this obvious until they were in the position to execute such behaviour, so it probably wouldn’t be picked up by an assessor and result in a fail. If somebody is that way inclined, then studying for a qualification isn’t going to stop it.  Likewise, poor customer service is down to personal attitude. A good course will most certainly offer pointers, but it is unlikely to result in a drastic attitude change, and massage rarely causes any kind of injury. Perhaps some of the more rigorous forms of massage, like Thai Massage, could – but they’re not regulated in any way, shape or form in the country of origin and going by the booming nature of that industry, the therapists out there apparently manage not to cause much damage to their customers. 
Is self-appointed authority a bonus or a restriction? 
In the UK, therapists will be aware of the main bodies offering what is currently ‘voluntary’ regulation; for example, the CNHC who state that they were established ‘with Government support’. It sounds official, and in order to register you must have certain qualifications. Western society generally requires some kind of external seal of approval to feel comfortable trusting a practitioner or company. So there is a market for it… but of course the therapist is footing the inevitable bill for this. 
Whether enforceable massage laws will become a reality in the UK is yet to be seen. It seems that the City of London is already finding ways to make official enforcements at the cost of the therapist: If you want to work there, you need to be licensed as a ‘Massage and Special Treatment Therapist.’ Apparently, "Massage and special treatment licenses in the City of London are issued under Part IV of the London County Council (General Powers) Act 1920.” This will set you back £66, and an assessment letter from NARIC if your qualification was internationally acquired. 
Massage laws are now in place in many states of the US, where up to 1000 hours of education can be required before you are legally allowed to practice. There are some states that are still unregulated but in most places you are going to have to prove yourself. Australia, New Zealand, and most European countries are currently not officially regulated, while some of the larger Canadian provinces regulate the therapist but not the practice. 
If you look at the National Careers Service website in the UK, an aspiring massage therapist will find the following advice: ‘To work safely as a massage therapist, you will need to take an in-depth course of at least six months full-time or 12 months part-time. You may be able to get into this job through an Apprenticeship scheme if there is one available locally.”  Could this be somewhat misleading to a less discerning therapist, as it doesn’t say anywhere in the job profile that you don’t have to have a particular qualification in order to work? 
The proof is in the pudding 
One could argue that it’s common sense that we need to have enough training to be considered ‘safe’ – but is this not also down to other variants, like sensibility, natural ability, and so on? A person could train for a year and still not generally considered a ‘good’ therapist, whereas someone with a natural aptitude might offer a better massage experience after only a week or two of training in a foreign country. The proof is in the pudding – if we don’t do a good job, or we behave inappropriately – the customer won’t come back! 
The cost to the therapist is often massive if training for a six-month period (or more) in the UK; it’s an investment, for sure. Yet there are no guarantees that the Diploma student will make a great therapist. It all depends on what clients are looking for, of course. Specialist treatments will require specialist knowledge – it goes without saying, and those with serious injures or complications may be much more comfortable visiting a therapist who has recognised qualifications and experience. But if the majority of massage clients are mainly seeking relaxation or relief from muscular tension, could this not be achieved with say.. a shorter, intense training course, or home tuition by an experienced therapist? 
How do you feel about lawful regulation? Are you pro-regulation? How much time do you think it should take to become a competent therapist? To what extent do you think regulation is beneficial, and at what point does it become a tiresome and/or expensive imposition, or a deterrent to those starting out? Would you be happy going to a lesser-trained therapist for treatment, if they did a good job, but weren’t registered with the FHT?

Lisa Rose
Lisa Rose


Massage Table Size Guide

Massage tables comes in many different shapes and size. It can be confusing for you, the customer, to choose the right one but we are here to help!

A lot of customers call us up after they have bought the wrong size massage table elsewhere and we would like to help you avoid this mistake. It normally goes something like this; they like the look of a picture of a massage table on a website, they like the low price and then they check the carrying weight is ok. If the carrying weight fits their needs they click add to cart and the new massage table turns up at their doorstep in a few days. They unfortunately assume all massage tables are pretty much the same width and size.

The standard size of a massage table is 28 inches wide (71cms) and 73 inches (185cms) long. One of the reasons many "lightweight" budget massage tables are so cheap is because

  1.  They are smaller in size (normally around 61cms wide) and as such have less materials
  2. They are sold by specialist retailers who also sell anything else they can import and turn a profit on. As such they just buy the cheapest massage tables they can find in China. They go for smaller sizes as they are cheaper.

Make sure the massage table is the right size for you and your clients as the narrow massage tables at 61cms can be very uncomfortable for anyone who isn't petite and many clients cannot relax with their shoulders and arms unsupported.


The Width of the Massage Table:

Almost all therapists choose the standard 28 inch wide massage table. All our massage tables are the same length so it is only the width and shape our customers need to decide on.

Your massage table should be wide enough to cater for the wide variety of shapes and sizes of your clients. It needs to be wide enough to comfortably accommodate your treatment style, while being narrow enough to ensure you don’t have to strain your own back during treatments.

Each therapist's postural training and ability is different, so only you will know what massage table width you can handle. We have spoken to therapists who are five feet tall and get the wider 30 inch massage tables, and we speak to six foot therapists who have back problems and go for a 25 inch wide massage table. Everyone is different.

Generally speaking, if you are of smaller stature, you may do better with one of the narrower 25-inch massage tables. If you're quite tall, or are particularly keen to offer your clients a very spacious experience, a 30-inch massage table might be more suitable.

If you are in doubt, see if you can go into your local training college and see whether the massage tables there suit you. However, there is another way to get a feel for what will work of you don’t have access to a couch when you are deciding:

Cut out a piece of cardboard to the dimensions of both sizes you are deciding between. Put it on top of the kitchen table and lean over it. Visualise a client lying there, and see which width will suit you and your client best.

measuring the width of a massage table

Make sure you can get close enough to the table that you can pivot at the waist and have your shoulders squared to the clients hips, with your hands parallel to the clients' spine. Working in this position will ensure an injury-free career, so it's an important factor in your decision.

The most popular massage table widths are 28 and 30 inches. We sell 25-inch massage tables but you should really only choose this width if you are shorter in height and having a wider massage table might put your own back at risk over the course of your career.

You can also choose the 25-inch if you want to have the lightest massage table possible. By reducing the width of the massage table, the weight is also reduced. Now, this can mean a trade-off of some client comfort, but this trade is often worthwhile if you are a fully mobile therapist and use public transport frequently, where saving a kilogram or two will make a difference to you over time.


The Height Of the Massage Table

Nowadays, almost all portable massage tables come with height adjustable legs. Whichever massage table you choose should come with a large height range to accommodate you, and to cater for a broad range of therapies.

A common height range of massage tables is between 60 to 80cm, and this height range should cater for everyone. To check which height you need your massage table to be at follow this rule of thumb:

1. Stand up straight with your hands by your sides. Clench your fists.
2. Measure the distance between the floor and your knuckles
3. This distance should equal the height of your massage table.
4. Add a few inches in height to allow for the body of the patient on the massage table.

The height of a massage table is usually only adjusted when different therapists are using the same massage table, or if you have a client that is outside the average size you normally treat. So for example, if someone with a lot of body depth comes for a treatment after an average size person, you may need to adjust the height a notch or two.

You should be able to adjust the height of a massage table in just 2-3 minutes. Even though you mightn't adjust the height very often, the faster the better when you do have to!

There are 2 types of height adjustment mechanisms found on modern massage tables.

1) Twisting knobs (found only on wooden massage tables):

If you are working with a wooden massage table, it is better to have two knobs on each of the four legs for greater strength and reliability. When buying online, make sure to check how many knobs are on the legs. Cheap massage tables often only have one knob, and when you raise the legs to the highest heights they are less stable and have been known to snap.

2) Telescopic push-buttons (found only on aluminium massage tables):

The mechanism to adjust the height of an aluminium massage table is much the same as the push-button method on aluminium crutches. It only takes a few seconds to adjust each leg, and the mechanism is very reliable. Check out the video to see how it’s done.


Massage Table Shape:

The following are the different shapes of massage tables on the market.

1. Rectangle shaped with square corners 

This is the traditional shape of a massage table and the one you are probably familiar with seeing. Our Combi-lite 3 in 1 and Affinity Portaflex are shaped like this.

2. Rectangle shaped with rounded corners

Same as no 1 above in every way except the corners are rounded. Does not affect function in any way, just a different design/look.


3. Hour glass shaped with gradual gradient 

A fabulous massage table innovation in recent years, which solves a lot of the problems around choosing the correct width is the hourglass shaped massage table.

This style of massage table is wider at the ends, and tapers somewhat at the middle. This provide a spacious and comfortable experience for your client (as the shoulder and feet area are 30 inches wide) without compromising your own posture and health, as the middle of the couch where you lean over is a much narrower 26 inches wide.Having recently upgraded to one of these hourglass massage tables myself, I can vouch that my working days are much more comfortable, and many of my clients have commented on the extra comfort from the wider shoulder area.


4. Hour glass shaped with sharp gradient
Same as point above but instead of the it gradually going from wide to narrow, the massage table changes quickly from normal width to narrow width so people of very short stature can get in close.
5. Oval Shaped

 The name says it all! There are no corners on the massage table. Therapists normally choose this for one of two reasons. They simply like the look of this massage table and it is aesthetically more pleasing in their treatment room and/or they find it easier to move around the massage table during the treatment without having to side step the corners. This is particularly handy when space is limited in your treatment room.

oval massage table


Have any questions or comments about anything above? Please let us know in the comments below!