A career in massage therapy can be personally and professionally fulfilling, but you'll need the right education to land a job. Learn about what to expect on the job, how to train, and more, below. 

Massage therapy careers are focused on providing hands-on care to promote healing and wellness. Therapists manipulate muscles and soft tissues to eliminate pain, improve blood circulation and encourage relaxation.

What does a massage therapist do?

  • Consults with clients regarding their symptoms and recommends a suitable course of treatment.
  • Manipulates the muscles and soft tissues in areas of pain and tension.
  • Explains stretching, strengthening and relaxation methods to clients.
  • Records client care and progress toward desired results.

Where do massage therapists work?

Nearly 40% of massage therapists are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and these professionals may work out of their own home or provide services in the homes of clients. Others may be employed by medical practices or resorts. In general, where someone works may depend upon their specialty.

  • Clinical massage therapists may be employed at hospitals, chiropractor offices and rehabilitation centers to provide therapeutic massage services intended to address medical concerns.
  • Spa massage therapists are found in resorts, spas and other settings devoted to relaxation and wellness.
  • Sports massage therapists are employed by sports teams and clinics to help athletes avoid injuries and improve performance.

How to Become a Massage Therapist

Most states regulate the profession so massage therapist education requirements depend upon where you live. However, massage therapist careers often follow a similar path. Here's a look at the steps commonly followed by those pursuing a career in massage therapy.

  1. Earn a high school diploma. You'll need a high school diploma or GED for entrance to most massage therapist degree programs.
  2. Complete massage therapy education. Check with your state licensing board for its massage therapy degree requirements. Most want therapists to complete a postsecondary program with at least 500 hours of study and instruction, but some may require 1,000 hours, the BLS says.
  3. Certification, licensing and exams for massage therapists. Once you complete your massage therapist degree, you will likely have to be licensed by your state. You may also want to pursue a voluntary certification.
CertificationCertifying board/organizationExam detailsState requirementsLicense/certificate renewal?
Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx)Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB)Computer-based exam covering 100 multiple choice questions and lasting two hours. Offered daily at testing sites across the country.Used for licensure in 46 states/jurisdictions including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin IslandsStates may require continuing education classes for renewal of licensure.
Board Certification in Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (BCTMB)National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB)Computer-based exam covering 140 questions to be answered in 140 minutes. Offered at testing sites throughout the country.Board certification is a voluntary credential above and beyond state licensure. However, some states like Nebraska and Oklahoma may accept NCBTMB testing for state licensure.Recertification required every two years.
Specialty CertificatesNCBTMBCandidates may have to complete online courses or in-person training before taking an online exam. Nine specialty certificates are available.Specialty certificates are voluntary and not required by statesNone required

Career advancement for massage therapists

You can advance a career in massage therapy through experience or additional education. For instance, earning a specialty certificate in a field such as pediatric massage or oncology massage may open up new employment opportunities.

Important Skills and Abilities for Massage Therapists

  • Social perceptiveness - Not everyone is familiar with bodywork such as massage, and therapists must be sensitive to client reactions and help them feel comfortable with the practice.
  • Service orientation - Massage therapy is about improving the health and wellbeing of others which can include recommending complementary procedures or healthy habits.
  • Dynamic strength - Therapists have a hands-on jobs and must have the muscle strength needed to work continuously without fatigue.
  • Finger dexterity - Some massage techniques rely on the movement of the fingers to massage specific muscles and soft tissues.
  • Static strength - Therapists, particularly those who are self-employed, may have to lift, carry and set up massage tables or other equipment. Static strength is necessary for these tasks.

Massage Therapist Salary and Career Outlook

Here's what massage therapists might expect to earn in the coming years, along with anticipated job growth for the occupation:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean WageProjected Job Growth Rate
Massage Therapists107,240$47,18022.2%
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Professional Organizations for Massage Therapists

Article Sources
Article Sources
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Massage Therapists, Accessed August 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm
  • Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination, Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, Accessed August 2019, https://www.fsmtb.org/mblex/
  • Massage Therapy Styles and Health Benefits, WedMD, Accessed August 2019, https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/massage-therapy-styles-and-health-benefits#1
  • Massage & Bodywork State Licensing Requirements, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Accessed August 2019, https://www.abmp.com/practitioners/state-requirements
  • FAQs, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, Accessed August 2019, https://www.ncbtmb.org/faqs/
  • Massage Therapists, O*NET Online, Accessed August 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/31-9011.00
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