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Massage Therapist Career Guide

What is a massage therapist?

A massage therapist is a trained professional who manipulates the body’s soft tissues to promote relaxation, enhance well-being, and aid healing. They use various techniques and tools to relieve pain, reduce stress, enhance sleep, and improve overall well-being. Their work goes beyond the physical act of massaging. They also build a deep understanding of their clients’ health conditions, lifestyles, and emotional states to offer customized treatments that deliver long-lasting effects. The aim is to improve the health and wellness of individuals, contributing to a healthier and more balanced society.

This role is vital in many industries, such as sports, healthcare, hospitality, and wellness. In the healthcare sector, they complement traditional medical treatments, aiding pain management and recovery. In the wellness and fitness industries, their services are used to maintain peak physical conditions and stress management. In the hospitality sector, they contribute to the guests’ relaxation and overall satisfaction. In all these industries, the ultimate goal is to provide services that improve the quality of life.

Duties and responsibilities

A massage therapist’s key duty is to work with clients to understand their physical conditions, the areas of discomfort, and their desired outcomes from massage therapy. This involves conducting initial client consultations and considering clients’ preferences, medical conditions, and personal comfort levels. They are responsible for maintaining accurate and detailed client records, including treatment plans, progress reports, and any contraindications observed throughout treatment.

After taking client histories and creating treatment plans, these professionals provide physical massage treatments using various techniques such as deep-tissue, Swedish, sports massage, reflexology, or acupressure. They maintain a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of conduct, ensuring client comfort, privacy, and dignity at all times. Cleaning and preparing the massage area, adhering to health and safety standards, and practicing hygiene protocols are also fundamental responsibilities.

Work environment

A massage therapist’s work environment can vary greatly depending on their area of specialization and the industry they work within. They may work in several settings, such as clinics, health clubs, spas, wellness centers, sports teams, hospitals, or clients’ homes. The work can be physically demanding, requiring stamina and the ability to be on one’s feet for long periods. Their workspace must be well-equipped for massage services, often featuring a quiet atmosphere, ambient light, and soothing music to create a relaxing ambiance for the clients.

Typical work hours

The work hours for a massage therapist can be diverse depending upon their practice environment and clientele. Often, therapists accommodating the schedules of their clients work evenings and weekends. Those operating from a wellness center, spa, or health club may have slightly more conventional hours. Part-time work is common in this profession, and many therapists balance their practice with other commitments. Hours can also depend on physical stamina, as this profession requires physical work and could limit the number of hours one can work in a day.

How to become a massage therapist

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a massage therapist. The key phases of this career path include acquiring relevant education, obtaining necessary certifications and licenses, and gaining practical experience.

Step 1: High school preparation

While still in high school, students interested in massage therapy can begin preparing for their careers by focusing on relevant subjects such as biology, anatomy, and physiology. Also, pursuing physical education can prove beneficial in understanding the human body’s physical capabilities and limitations.

Step 2: Receive a diploma or degree in massage therapy

Post high school, you should enroll in a diploma or degree program in massage therapy accredited by organizations such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). These courses familiarize students with various types of massage therapies, health and safety protocols, business practices, and ethics.

Step 3: Complete hands-on training

Massage therapy programs often include hands-on training in the curriculum. This practical learning component allows students to apply the theoretical knowledge they’ve gained and develop their massage techniques.

Step 4: Obtain licensure

Most states require these professionals to have a license to practice. The specific requirements may vary by state but usually involve passing a state-approved examination. The Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) is one of the most common licensing examinations.

Step 5: Get certified

Some states may also require certification in addition to or instead of licensure. Certification illustrates a level of professional competence and adherence to industry standards. The Board Certification in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB) is a recognized certification in the field.

Step 6: Gain work experience

Early career experience can often be gained through internships, part-time jobs, or volunteering. Gaining work experience helps to improve skills, learn about different working environments, and establish a base for the future career path.

Step 7: Continue professional development

Even after securing a job, it’s important to stay updated with new techniques, therapies, and industry standards. Regularly participating in workshops, training sessions, and other continuing education opportunities can benefit you throughout your career.

How much do massage therapists make?

Massage therapist salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The demand for these professionals tends to be higher in areas with a concentration of spas or wellness centers, thus increasing the potential income.

Highest paying industries

  • Outpatient Care Centers – $66,720
  • Hospitals – $63,410
  • Accommodation – $60,040
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners – $58,870
  • Personal Care Services – $57,670

Highest paying states

  • Alaska – $86,080
  • New York – $74,750
  • Washington – $72,810
  • Oregon – $70,530
  • California – $68,820

Browse massage therapist salary data by market

Types of massage therapists

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for massage therapists.

Clinical massage therapist

In the healthcare industry, clinical massage therapists are essential components. They work in chiropractic offices or physical therapy clinics, focusing on alleviating patients’ physical pain and stress using targeted massage techniques. They often work closely with medical professionals to design a rehabilitation or wellness plan for the patient.

Sports massage therapist

Professionals in this field primarily deal with athletes. These specialized therapists utilize their skills to assist athletes in enhancing their performance, recovering from injuries, and preventing future discomfort. They work in various locations, from fitness centers to sporting events.

Spa massage therapist

Working within the wellness and hospitality industry, these therapists are commonly found in spas, resorts, and cruise ships. They provide relaxation massages and treatments like hot stone therapy, aromatherapy, and other beauty-related services. Their main goal is to create a comforting and rejuvenating experience for their clients.

Self-employed massage therapist

Some massage therapists prefer the freedom of being their own boss. Self-employed professionals can set their rates, choose their clients, and make their schedules. They could work from home, have a dedicated office, or even provide mobile services, traveling to clients’ homes or offices for appointments.

Prenatal massage therapist

Specializing in prenatal care, these professionals work with expecting mothers. They help alleviate the discomforts of pregnancy, such as backaches and leg cramps, and improve overall well-being. Trained in the right techniques and precautions, these therapists help make pregnancy more comfortable and relaxing for women.

Top skills for massage therapists

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a massage therapist.

Anatomical knowledge

Having a solid understanding of the human body, including the muscular and skeletal systems, is essential for this role. This knowledge enables the practitioner to target their treatments effectively by understanding how different pressure points can help relieve pain and tension in the body.

Physical stamina and strength

Working in this field requires strong physical stamina, as you’ll be on your feet for extended periods. Additionally, applying specific massage practices requires upper body strength. It’s important to maintain your fitness level to ensure you can provide high-quality treatments.

Excellent communication skills

Clear and empathetic communication is vital. Understanding clients’ requests, explaining treatments, and providing aftercare advice requires effective interaction. Being able to empathize with clients, understand their needs, and help them feel relaxed are also key aspects of good communication.

Customer service skills

Providing an exceptional client experience is a major part of this role. This includes creating a calming atmosphere, listening to clients’ needs and preferences, and ensuring their comfort throughout their visit. Good customer service can lead to repeat business and positive word-of-mouth referrals.

Business savvy

If you plan to open your own practice, understanding the basics of business is important. This includes marketing your services, managing finances, and understanding local licensing and regulations. Various resources are available for small business owners, including online courses and local business development centers to help you gain these skills.

Massage therapist career path options

As a massage therapist, the career path ahead is diverse, with opportunities to advance both professionally and personally. Here are some possibilities you might consider for your career progression.


One potential route is to develop a specialization in a specific field. There is a wide range of modalities you can learn, from sports massage to prenatal massage. By doing so, you can set yourself apart from other therapists and target specific groups of clients, expanding your opportunities for career growth.

Private practice

Starting your own practice allows you to be your own boss, offering you greater control over your hours and income. This entrepreneurial route is challenging and requires a sound knowledge of business principles in addition to massage therapy skills. Nevertheless, it could be highly rewarding and offer significant career advancement opportunities.


An alternative roadmap is in education. With experience, you might choose to teach upcoming massage therapists. Positions can range from guest lecturer to full-time instructor in vocational colleges or massage training institutes. This path allows you to shape the future of your profession while showcasing your mastery of the field.


Lastly, diverse industries employ massage therapists, such as spas, wellness centers, and even luxury cruise ships! With experience, you could progress into managerial roles supervising teams of therapists. This career progression path enhances your leadership and organizational skills, setting you up for potential long-term growth.

With greater emphasis on holistic health and wellness, people want to incorporate non-invasive ways to manage stress and physical discomfort. This perspective has indirectly promoted the role, enhancing their prominence in healthcare. Many fitness centers, physical therapy facilities, and wellness clinics are now incorporating these services into their businesses.

Another significant development in the industry is specialization. In addition to traditional Swedish or deep tissue modalities, therapists can specialize in areas like sports massage, pediatric massage, and trigger point therapy. This drive toward specialization offers new opportunities for those in the field, enabling them to cater to a broader range of clients. With numerous areas to specialize in, this profession offers tremendous opportunities for development and skill honing.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of massage therapists is expected to grow by 20 percent through 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. Much of this projected growth is attributed to their role in promoting wellness and relieving pain. Demand for these professionals is likely to stay strong, with more people recognizing and appreciating the therapeutic benefits of massage.

Massage therapist career tips

Understand and master different massage techniques

Different clients have different needs; mastering various massage techniques increases the range of ailments and issues you can treat. Techniques such as Swedish, deep tissue, hot stone, or Thai massage offer diverse benefits, and understanding when to utilize them would make you a versatile and more sought-after practitioner. Regular practice and relevant workshops can provide up-to-date knowledge and hands-on experience.

Build a professional network

Networking in the field of massage therapy can open doors to new opportunities and professional growth. Consider joining and actively participating in:

  • American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)
  • National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB)
  • Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP)
  • International Association of Healthcare Practitioners (IAHP)

Focused client consultation

Before each session, spend time consulting the client. Understand their pain points, needs, and expectations for the massage. Knowledge of their medical history and lifestyle can help tailor a session to suit their individual requirements. This focused and customer-centric approach can set you apart from others.

Recommend continuous learning

Beyond practical experience, furthering your education can greatly enhance your career. Here are a few ways:

  • Attending seminars and workshops in related fields such as sports science or chiropractic
  • Enrolling in courses teaching different massage techniques
  • Taking on online classes on client management or business marketing
  • Reading books or subscribing to industry-related publications

Obtain relevant certifications

Earning additional professional certifications enhances your skills and serves as a testament to your commitment to the profession. Certifications such as Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB) or Certified Prenatal Massage Therapist (CPMT), to name a few, can present additional opportunities and professional growth.

Where the massage therapist jobs are

Top employers

  • Massage Envy
  • Hand and Stone
  • Elements Massage
  • Spa Nordstrom
  • Omni Hotels

Top states

  • California
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Monster
  • LinkedIn
  • SimplyHired


What skills are required to excel in massage therapy?

A successful practitioner in this field must possess exceptional manual dexterity and physical stamina. An understanding of human anatomy and physiology, combined with a compassionate and patient-centric approach, can set a professional apart in the competitive wellness market. Excellent communication skills are also crucial to understanding client needs and expectations.

Is formal education necessary for massage therapists?

Yes, formal training is essential. Various programs, like a diploma in massage therapy, are available at community colleges, vocational schools, and universities. These courses teach students about human anatomy, physiology, and different massage techniques. Licensing is also necessary in most states, which usually entails passing an exam after graduation.

What are some common challenges in massage therapy?

Challenges for this job can be both physical and emotional. Long hours of standing and performing physically demanding tasks can be tiresome. Additionally, the emotional burden of dealing with clients with chronic pain or serious health issues can be overwhelming. Practitioners should take steps to ensure they are maintaining their own physical and emotional health as well.

What type of work environment can I expect as a massage therapist?

Most work in wellness centers and hospitality industries, including spas and resorts, or have their own private practices. Their work environment is typically serene, with low lighting and soft music to help clients relax. Some may also provide mobile services, traveling to a client’s home or workplace.

Can massage therapists specialize in different techniques?

Yes, there are several specializations available within the field. These include but are not limited to deep tissue massage, sports massage, prenatal massage, and reflexology. Specializing in a particular technique can help set them apart, especially in a highly competitive market.

Do massage therapists require insurance?

Yes, carrying liability insurance is important. Insurance offers protection against potential claims that may arise as a result of professional services. It can cover client injury or property damage during a session. In some states, liability insurance is also a requirement for licensing.

How can I stand out as a massage therapist?

Apart from providing exceptional services, customer service skills can make a difference. Follow up with your clients, show empathy, and provide personalized services. Continuing education can also provide advanced techniques or specializations that differentiate you from others. Participating in local wellness events or joining professional organizations can help establish a reputation and network.

What is the work-life balance like for a massage therapist?

Work-life balance for those in the profession can vary greatly. While some work full-time, many work part-time or have flexible schedules. Evening and weekend appointments are common as many clients schedule their sessions during their free time. Thus, this occupation allows for a degree of flexibility not available in many jobs.

What are the long-term prospects for a career in massage therapy?

The demand for massage therapy is expected to rise as more people value holistic and wellness treatments. As a practitioner, you can continue to improve in your craft, specializing in different techniques. With enough experience and an established client base, opening a private practice or consultancy could be a viable long-term prospect.