Becoming a Massage Therapist Careers & Salary Outlook

What is a Massage Therapist?

A massage therapist is a worker who helps people recover from a variety of ailments by manipulating muscles and pressure points to relieve pain, stress, improve circulation, and increase overall wellness. Massage therapists work in a variety of settings including spas, chiropractic offices, physician’s practices, cruise ships, private practices, and athletic centers.

Since they deliver healthcare services, massage therapists are regulated by the states in which they practice. The regulations for practice and qualifications for licensure vary from state to state, but their profession is recognized by all states.

Steps to Becoming a Massage Therapist

Becoming a Massage Therapist involves more than simply rubbing shoulders. If you wish to join this profession, you need a desire to help people recover from various maladies and to improve the overall wellbeing of each client. Once you have a full working understanding of the profession, you will need to find a licensed massage school that will train you and prepare you for the state licensing examination.

Once you attain your state licensure your state might also require ongoing education and training. The requirements for Continuing Education Units (CEUs) will vary from state to state, or even according to local law, so check your local statutes when considering this career.

  • Step 1: Is this the profession for me?

  • Step 2: Education

  • Step 3: Licensure

  • Step 4: Continuing education


Step 1: Is this the profession for me?

The first step is to determine that this is the profession for you. It will involve a great investment of time, energy, and money to become licensed, so this is a vital part of the process. You need to be sure that you will be comfortable interacting with virtual strangers on an intimate basis, have strong personal boundaries, and that you wish to employ your skills for the overall service of health and wellness.

In this stage you might also start to consider what sort of practice you desire. Some love the idea of working at a lavish resort, on a cruise ship, or at a spa. Others see themselves working with professional athletes. Still others wish to work alongside chiropractors or physicians to help their patients recover from a variety of maladies. Keep in mind that you can also go into business for yourself and cultivate a client base that is unique to you alone.

Step 2: Education

Licensure is a requirement for Massage Therapists in 45 states, so the likelihood is that you will need to attend a Massage School. These programs are typically about 500 hours, but they can be as much as 1,000 hours. To enroll you will only need a high school diploma or its equivalent. You will also need to be physically capable of delivering massage.

During your study, you will receive in-depth instruction on anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and pathology. Your school will likely include instruction related to your career, including business management and professional ethics.

Step 3: Licensure

Your Massage School experience will groom you for success in attaining a state license to practice. Not only must you graduate from your massage school, but you should pass a state examination that is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. The test is broken down into the following subject areas:

  • Anatomy and Physiology – 11-12%
  • Kinesiology – 11-12%
  • Pathology, Contraindications, Areas of Caution, Special Population – 13-14%
  • Benefits and Physiological Effects of Techniques that Manipulate Soft Tissue – 14-15%
  • Client Assessment, Reassessment, and Treatment Planning – 17%
  • Ethics, Boundaries, Laws, and Regulations – 15-16%
  • Guidelines for Professional Practice – 13-15%

You will also need to complete a background check and be prepared to answer for any infractions. If you are aware of an infraction prior to submitting your paperwork, you might include a letter that details the infraction and how you addressed it. Be sure to discuss fine payments, probationary periods, and provide copies of any relevant paperwork that you might have.

Step 4: Continuing Education

To maintain your license, many state boards will require that you continue your professional education. You should expect to complete up to 25 or more hours of continuing education coursework for every two years of licensure. Failure to submit appropriate and sufficient hours will result in licensure suspension. You can find CEU opportunities through the American Massage Therapy Association among other providers. Your coursework should directly relate to massage and you can likely take courses using a variety of media, including online, self-study, and traditional seminars. Consult your state board for specific requirements.

Note that with a Massage Therapy license you will find reciprocity with most other states. Some states, however, are more difficult to transfer to than others. Oregon, for instance, requires that Therapists wait at least six months before they can begin to practice in the state.

What Does a Massage Therapist Do?

A massage therapist spends a large part of their day working with clients who have a variety of needs. Each session will start with an assessment of a client’s need. If the client is a medical referral, there may be relevant paperwork, and you, as a therapist, may discuss the ailment and its progress. There are a variety of environments that massage therapists inhabit, including private practice, spas and resorts, and medical facilities

If you are in a private practice, you could spend a good deal of time marketing your business and analyzing approaches for generating new business. For instance, you could seek out other health and wellness practitioners to establish a robust referral network.

On the other hand, if you work in a spa or on a resort, your time might be more regimented. Other staff members might arrange your roster of clients for the day, and all you need to do is arrive and provide your professional service. The trade-off is that you have support staff and no personal expense for office maintenance.

Therapists who work in a medical facility likewise have a more regimented workday in which they are provided a schedule of patients to work with. Physicians and chiropractors may have you work in their office certain days of the week, or they may refer clients to your private practice when needed.

Massage Therapist Skills to Acquire

As a massage therapist, you will need a few essential skills: communication skills, business management, empathy, and physical strength and stamina. You will need communication skills to interpret a client’s descriptions into actionable plans. Your training will allow you understand how things like referred pain work and thus to proceed accordingly when that is what a person is referring to.

You will need strong management skills to make sure that your business is successful and long-lived. Along with business, you must be able to manage time wisely. Thus, you will need to be able to stick to schedules so that each client is seen in a timely fashion.

As a health and wellness practitioner, you must be empathetic with patients who are in pain. They will need a receptive ear when discussing their difficulties, and your patient manner might elicit more information that you’ll find helpful in delivering treatment.

Finally, you must be able to maintain long hours on your feet, have strong arms and upper body, and be able to use your physicality week in and week out. When massage therapists are injured, they jeopardize their livelihood, and threaten their patient’s ability to receive treatment. Thus, make sure you have the physical ability to practice your profession.

Alternative Paths

While entry to this field is rather limited to the singular route of first completing a program at a Massage Therapy School, attaining a state license, and then getting to work, your starting point could be from anywhere at all. After they’ve started, many massage therapists embark on various alternative paths thereafter. Some enter the field after receiving profound treatments from a Massage Therapist or seeing the need among their patients in a nursing home.

Still others yearn for an independent business they can have fun with, without too much up-front risk or overhead. Given the range of possibilities for a Massage Therapist, if you feel the pull to treat others through this modality, this is a great way to work as a healthcare provider.

The profession also opens up a person to the possibility of travel and adventure. You could find work on an exotic resort or in a remote spa. Some travelers are able to make their way around the world, working in various spas and clinics long enough to earn enough to continue traveling.

Massage Therapist Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Massage therapists work in a variety of environments including retail spaces, medical offices, long-term care facilities, independent offices, spas, and private resorts. As a new therapist, you might start out working for a massage company in a retail space where you are offered an hourly rate plus tips. These jobs are often low-paid, but they offer a good starting point.

While working in a retail massage shop, you could find work with a chiropractic office, medical clinic, or long-term care facility. These settings allow you to work with patients who are in dire need of help and healing. Many therapists feel that a strictly clinical or medical setting is their calling and even springboard from these clinics to work as a physical therapist or elsewhere in the medical community.

On the other hand, you could decide to be your own boss and set up a private practice. Many are attracted to the profession for this reason. They love being able to make their own schedule, find their own clients, and build a totally unique, individual practice.

Finally, you could also seek work in a spa or resort. Many new massage therapists find this alluring and so take their licenses to exotic locales such as the Bahamas, find work on cruise ships, or seek work in a Hawaiian resort.

Potential Career Paths

When you start work as a massage therapist, you might wonder where your career will take you. While many love running their own independent businesses for the duration of their career, others take a more winding route through the working world. Here are a few related fields you might consider:

Athletic Trainer:
Professionals in this field specialize in helping athletes to prevent various injuries to their muscles and bones. They might help athletes strengthen muscles so as to protect joints and to use proper postures and forms to avoid other injuries.

Physical Therapist Aide:
PT aides help the therapist to treat patients with a wide range of functional disabilities. You will work with patients who have incurred devastating injuries, debilitating diseases, strokes, and who are recouping from surgery, among many others. Your daily work might involve massaging tendons, holding walkers steady and recording data for medical records.

Physical Therapist:
This is a doctoral-level position that will find you working in a hospital to help people recover from a wide range of aliment and injury. You might have clients suffering from something as relatively minor as tendinitis or you could have amputee patients who need to work with a prosthetic limb in order to walk again.

Exercise Physiologist:
This profession helps people discover new exercise routines that will help them recover from injury and disease. Some may have atrophied muscles resulting from a long period of bed rest, or others might need to vary their exercise routines so that their bodies receive a more holistic workout.

Clinic/Spa Owner:
If you work as an independent massage therapist for a number of years, you might decide to create a brand and take on employees. You could set up a quickie massage center in a shopping mall or create a self-contained spa that includes saunas, steam rooms, and mud baths, among other treatment areas.

Public Health Educator:
Your desire to help others might translate into the public health field. Public health educators work in hospitals, clinics, and many other environments where people need reliable, actionable health information. For instance, you could provide nutritional information to a community and thereby help reduce the overall incidence of Type II Diabetes.

Recreational Therapist:
This profession engages patients in a variety of ways to help people recover from long periods of suffering. In your practice, you might engage patients with arts activities, sports, board games, aquatics, or field trips to fun destinations.

Rehabilitation Counselors:
Your job as a rehabilitation counselor will be to help patients learn to live autonomously. For those with significant disabilities, you might spend years working with them to simply leave the house. Others might need to learn how to cook for themselves or take the bus to work.

Career Outlook

Massage therapists are looking at a rosy future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this occupation is anticipating 26% growth through 2026. This is much faster than average, which should be exciting for those considering the field. This expanding demand might be arising from the overall increases in healthcare. It could also stem from the rising tide of the wellness movement. Regardless, the current median salary is listed as $39,990 per year. Since that is likely only counting those who work as employees, the earnings of independent massage therapists are likely to be far greater.

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Advancing from Here

After you have practice massage therapy for a number of years, you might desire a change. The profession itself offers options, such as working in clinics, spas, or as an independent businessperson. In fact, you might choose to take a business loan and parlay your experience in private practice into owning and operating your very own spa. Alternately, you might desire to branch out into a new career path.

Related fields will likely require more education, but you might transition into work as a Physical Therapy Aide, a Rehabilitation Therapist, or a Recreational Therapist. Other options might find you working in medical supply sales, healthcare administration, or elsewhere in the world of business administration.

Healthcare Career Paths