Massage Therapists Overview

Formal training and licensing in massage therapy is necessary in many states in order to practice as a massage therapist. Consisting of many part-time and self-employed massage therapists, employment is expected to grow faster than average once people are made aware of the benefits of this occupation.

Nature of the Work for Massage Therapists

Massage Therapists

Performed for a variety of reasons, massage therapy is used to manipulate the soft-tissue muscles in the body through touch. Those with painful ailments, dealing with stress, tired muscles, injuries from sports and those looking to just promote their health, all engage in massage therapy practices. Massage therapists are used to provide people with medical benefits as well as relaxation.

With over 80 types of massages (modalities), massage therapists can be specialized in types such as Swedish massage, deep-tissue, acupressure and sports massage. Since there are so many types of massages, many massage therapists are skilled in more than just one type of massage.

The length of a massage can vary from 5 to 10 minutes up to 2 hours. The technique the massage therapist uses can vary patient to patient, involving exaggerated strokes over a body part or quick movements with a cupped or closed hand.

Massage therapists tailor their massages around the client’s needs, from working with elderly clients to clients with injuries. Massage therapists can also perform massages for those who are pregnant as well as new mothers.

Before a massage therapist meets with her client, an interview is conducted with the client to evaluate their personal needs and medical history. After assessing the client, the massage therapist will discuss whether a massage will be beneficial or not for that particular client.

Massage therapists work by appointment and people are usually referred to them due to the types of massages they study and what they specialize in.

During the actual massage, massage therapists will ask the client to undress or wear loosely-fitted clothing before lying on the table to be covered by a sheet. A massage therapist will use creams, oils, or lotions during the massage and if the massage therapist is self-employed, he or she will provide the table, chair, lotions and pillows for the appointment. The body part being massaged will be exposed and if requested, some massages can be performed without lotions and creams while the client is fully clothed.

A massage therapist will usually give massages in a dimly lit environment with ambient music playing the background. Massage therapists may also light candles or incense while giving a massage. Such amenities such as music and lighting all depend on the massage therapist’s location.

Developing a loyal clientele through referrals and happy customers is essential for massage therapists to become successful in this business.

Massage therapists can either work in public locations such as malls, fitness centers or hospitals as well as private locations, such as traveling to a client’s home or traveling to various locations when scheduled.

Injuries can become common for massage therapists due to the physical demands of the job. Problems such as fatigue, extended amounts of standing and repetitive motion problems can contribute to these injuries. With exercise, spacing out appointments properly and practicing good techniques, many of these problems can be avoided.

Full time work for a massage therapist usually consists of working 15 to 30 hours a week, and typically less than 40. Due to travel, billing and business functions, a massage therapist may actually work 40 hours or even more during the week.

Forty eight percent of massage therapists worked part-time while 19 percent had unpredictable schedules.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Massage Therapists

Laws are often changing in terms of licensing, certification, and accreditation for massage therapists in the United States.

In 2009, laws were regulated in 42 states as well as the District of Columbia in terms of massage therapy. Most laws require massage therapists to complete some type of formal education program and then pass an examination. States such as Kansas, Idaho, Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Vermont did not have licensing requirements in 2009. Laws are often changing and can vary state-by-state so it is best to check information on licensing and accreditation for your particular state.

Education can vary by state, but programs can usually be found in public and private postsecondary institutions. A high school diploma or the equivalent can be requested before admittance where massage therapy students can log up to 500 hours of study in order to complete the program.

Subjects usually covered in massage therapy programs are anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and ethics. Full-time and part-time programs are usually available and some programs offer alumni services which can be beneficial when searching for a job.

Accreditation for each massage therapy certificate program can vary. An independent accrediting agency and/or State board must approve the program. For states that standardize massage therapy, a massage therapist must have graduated from an approved school or training program in order to practice as well as maintain a license. Some State programs will even require massage therapists to continue their education after completing the program.

In terms of licensing, passing a test is usually required. the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) and the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) or a state exam is required for states that have massage therapy regulations.

Since regulations vary state-by-state, those looking to work as massage therapists should see what the legal requirements are for where they wish to work. The licensure board decides for each state which legal requirements should be in place. Fees for licensing and licensing renewal can also vary state-by-state.

Massage therapists should have great communication skills and a good personality. Building trust with clients is crucial as well as making them feel comfortable during the process. Strong entrepreneurial skills and organization are also important in becoming successful.

Though advancements are limited in the massage therapy field, massage therapists, with experience and practice, can increase client fees to make a larger income. Other ways to advance are to become managers of their specific work location or to teach a training program. Those who are self-employed with many clients make the most money in this industry.

Top 10 Most Popular Massage Therapy Schools

1. National Massage Therapy Institute, Philadelphia (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
2. Utah College of Massage Therapy, Salt Lake City (Salt Lake City, Utah)
3. National Holistic Institute, Emeryville (Emeryville, California)
4. United Education Institute (Multiple Campus Locations)
5. Cortiva Institute, Wall Township (Belmar, New Jersey)
6. Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences (New York, New York)
7. Baltimore School of Massage, Baltimore (Linthicum Heights, Maryland)
8. School of Medical Massage, Dayton (Dayton, Ohio)
9. Carrington College, Phoenix North (Phoenix, Arizona)
10. Soma Institute (Chicago, Illinois)

See All Massage Therapy Schools

Most Popular Online Massage Therapy Schools

1. Medical Careers Institute - Online School
2. Ashworth College - Online School
3. Centura College - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Massage Therapists

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow faster than average (increase 14 - 19%).

Massage therapists hold 55,920 jobs and 57 percent of those are self-employed. Those working as self-employed massage therapists usually work as independent contractors or own their own business. Those who are not self-employed usually find employment in places such as physician and chiropractor offices or fitness centers. Amongst those working for themselves or for a company, many choose massage therapy as a way to make a second source of income.

Metropolitan areas, resort locations and destination locales offer massage therapists the most jobs.

Employment for massage therapists is expected to increase 19 percent. Growing faster than the average, those who complete proper training will have access to more job opportunities, also when people find out about the benefits of massage therapy will the need for them increase.

Though many spas have opened, meaning more jobs for massage therapists, massage clinic franchises have also opened offering cheaper massages for clients. Since state licensing and requirements are increasing, massage therapy will grow increasingly respected in the industry.

As more and more people find benefits with massage, such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, the job market for massage therapists will grow. Those in older age groups (over 55 years old) will demand message therapy more than others because they are enjoying active and healthy lives longer. Currently, demand for massage therapy is high in young adults who don’t have the concerns about massage that those who are older had.

Joining a professional association as well as networking are important factors in success for massage therapists. Though many massage therapists choose to work either full or part time, new massage therapists usually start working part time in places like spas and hotels.

Earnings and Salary for Massage Therapists

Median hourly wages of massage therapists, including gratuities, are $16.94. The middle 50 percent earn between $11.32 and $24.88. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $8.30, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $33.01.

Since many massage therapists work on a part-time schedule, their income can vary each year, also depending on their gratuities. Though massage therapists make a decent amount of their income from tips, tipping is not common in places such as hospitals and other clinical settings. Benefits are also rarely provided for those working part and full time.

Hourly Wage for Massage Therapists

On average, Massage Therapists earn $16.94 per hour.

10% 25% 75% 90% $8.30 $11.32 $24.88 $33.01

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook