Careers in Massage Therapy

Careers in Massage Therapy

Massage therapists love their jobs. Nearly 90% are satisfied or very satisfied with their career and 99% believe their work has a positive impact on their clients. It’s a rewarding profession for those who enjoy people and want the flexibility to choose their own path. 

If you’re considering a career in massage therapy, here’s what you need to know to get started. 

Career outlook for massage therapists

Massage therapy is a rapidly growing field. In 2018, the massage therapy industry grew to $18 billion, a three-fold increase over a 15-year period. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, 19% of adults received massage therapy in 2018. Over the five-year period from 2013 to 2018, 31% of adults had some type of massage therapy. 

Most people enter massage therapy as a second career. The flexible work hours—most massage therapists work fewer than 30 hours a week—and high level of independence make it an attractive career. 

New massage therapists find work easily after they get their license. Over 62% landed a job in less than a month and another 22% found a position at the one-month mark.  

Different disciplines for massage therapists

Massage therapy techniques or modalities accomplish a number of different goals. Depending on the therapeutic techniques, massage therapy can be used to promote relaxation and improved circulation, aid in pain management and injury recovery, reduce stress levels and stress-related muscle pain and stiffness. 

Aesthetic massage therapy

This type of massage is used to increase circulation to tone tissue, release muscle tension and pain, and encourage overall relaxation. Modalities include aromatherapy, hot stone massage, and traditional Swedish massage. 

New massage therapy graduates are able to perform these services without any additional specialization. Aesthetic massage therapists can work at spas, health clubs, and massage franchises. 

Medical massage therapy

This is one of the fastest growing disciplines in massage therapy. Health care providers are increasingly recognizing the benefits of massage therapy to treat conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, sports injuries, arthritis, and chronic pain. Pediatric massage therapy has shown to be helpful for children on the autism spectrum. 

To become a medical massage therapist, you need to complete an additional 300 to 800 hours of education and hands-on training after you pass your massage and bodywork license. 

Medical massage therapists work in a variety of different health care settings including hospitals, clinics, rehab centers, and physicians’ offices

Specialty techniques

Some massage therapists specialize in modalities such as prenatal massage, Reiki, reflexology, Shiatsu, sports massage, trigger point massage, neuromuscular massage, and myofascial release therapy. 

Once you are a licensed massage therapist, you can complete additional training in these massage specialties. In many cases, training involves an intense three- to five-day seminar, which can be completed in a row or spread out over two weekends. 

How to become a licensed massage therapist

Massage therapy is regulated in 46 states and the District of Columbia. To work as a massage therapist, you need to meet your state’s licensing requirements. 

Massage therapy coursework typically takes between 500 and 1,000 hours and includes a mix of classroom education and hands-on clinical practice. In most states, you must pass the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). The test covers anatomy, physiology, pathology, assessment and treatment techniques, and medical ethics. 

Once you’re licensed, you can pursue board certification through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. The board also offers specialty certification in eight different modalities to further enhance your credentials.  

Most massage therapists join a professional association such as the American Massage Therapy Association and enroll in continuing education courses to stay current on new techniques and trends in the industry. 

Qualities that make a good massage therapist

Not everyone is suited for a career in massage therapy. The work can be physically and emotionally demanding and involves constant close contact with a variety of people. 

Empathy: Massage therapists often see patients who are in pain or distress. It’s important to be able to put patients at ease and establish a level of trust so you can provide effective treatment. 

Discretion and confidentiality: Massage therapists may have access to medical records and other confidential information about their patients. Patients may share personal information during the course of treatment. The massage therapist must be able to keep confidentiality and respect laws about patient privacy. 

Good communication skills: It takes skill to get to the source of a patient’s pain and stress; the therapist should be able to ask the right questions and listen carefully to tease out the information necessary to treat the patient. 

Diagnostic and decision-making skills: The therapist must be able to look at the overall client record and presentation to determine the source of the problem and the correct treatment modality. 

Strength, stamina, and dexterity: Massage therapists usually provide several treatments a day, many of which involve complex manipulation techniques and positioning the patient. 

Potential disadvantages of a career in massage therapy

Although most massage therapists love their work and are happy with their careers, there are two potential pitfalls to consider before you decide to pursue this line of work. 

  • Physically demanding. Massage therapy can take a toll on the therapist’s body. Common issues include back pain, tendinitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. 
  • Inconsistent income. Most therapists are paid by the number of appointments they take each day. Building a clientele can be challenging in the early stages, so some therapists don’t meet their income goals right away after graduation. 

Massage therapy salaries

According to, the average massage therapist salary is about $52,000 per year. The average work-week for a massage therapist is just over 28 hours. 

One in 10 massage therapists earns $66,000 per year or more, and 10% earn about $41,000. Where you live and your work setting has a major impact on your salary, however. 

Getting started

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in massage therapy, your first step is to find an accredited education program in your area. The American Massage Therapy Association is a good place to start. It’s also a good idea to talk to a massage therapist working in your area to see what they like—and don’t like—about their jobs to get a better idea if this is the right career for you.