The complete guide on how to become a massage therapist

Last updated: February 23, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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The complete guide on how to become a massage therapist
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Do you enjoy helping people and have an interest in integrative medicine?

Massage therapy can be extremely rewarding for both massage therapists and their clients. It’s a growing industry, and the demand for these professionals is only increasing. With the right combination of training and education, you can start working in this field and gain the satisfaction of improving people’s well-being.

This career guide will help you understand the steps to becoming a massage therapist, including the education requirements and common career paths. You’ll also learn about salary expectations and the projected job demand over the coming years.

What is a massage therapist?

A massage therapist uses touch and pressure techniques to manipulate the body’s soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue.

These techniques are aimed at improving a person’s overall physical and mental well-being.

Massage therapists are trained to understand the anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology of the body, along with massage and bodywork techniques. They learn to recognize what types of massage and bodywork techniques may be most beneficial for particular conditions.

These professionals often coordinate with other healthcare experts, such as physicians, physical therapists, and chiropractors, to develop comprehensive treatment plans for their clients.

In addition to providing hands-on massage therapy, they may offer their patients health education, lifestyle advice, and stress management techniques.

Massage therapy is an excellent career to consider, as it offers good job security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment rate of massage therapists is projected to grow by 20% from 2021 to 2031, with around 25,200 job openings yearly.

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This is much faster than other healthcare support occupations — making massage therapy an excellent choice for individuals who want to work in the healthcare industry but don’t want to go through the years of training and education required for other roles.

Find a job as a massage therapist on Jobcase.

Common massage therapist duties and responsibilities

Your duties as a massage therapist may depend on the type of therapist you become. Here’s a list of the most common massage therapist tasks:

Assessing clients’ needs

Massage therapists assess their clients’ physical and emotional needs before beginning treatment and adjust their approach as necessary. This includes talking to each client about their medical history, treatment objectives, and symptoms.

Developing treatment plans

Therapists develop individualized treatment plans for clients that outline the type of massage, required pressure, and techniques that can help the individual.

For example, a treatment plan for a patient who needs joint mobilization to improve their range of motion will look different than one for someone who needs relief from back pain.

Administering massages

Massage therapists use their fingers, hands, elbows, and forearms to apply pressure to muscles and other soft tissues.

Popular massage types include the following:

  • Swedish massage is a tender form of massage that uses kneading, strokes, and circular movements to promote relaxation and improve circulation.

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  • Deep tissue massage aims to release chronic tension and pain by targeting deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue.

  • Sports massage helps athletes prepare for or recover from sports-related activities by improving circulation, reducing muscle tension, and increasing range of motion.

  • Prenatal massage is a gentle form of massage specifically designed for pregnant women to help reduce stress, relieve pain and discomfort, and improve overall well-being.

  • Hot stone massage is a type of massage that uses smooth, heated stones to help warm and relax tight muscles.

Maintaining equipment and supplies

Massage therapists maintain and sanitize their massage tables, linens, and other relevant items to ensure a clean and healthy work environment.

Marketing and networking

Many professional massage therapists have private practices and are responsible for marketing their services and building their client base. To attract clients, they might attend networking events, maintain a website or social media presence, and offer promotions or discounts through email marketing.

Massage therapist salary and demand

Today, more people prioritize self-care. As a result, there’s a higher demand for massage therapists, and the industry is growing swiftly in response. The massage therapy industry is predicted to grow at a rate of 8.6% over the next decade.

On average, massage therapists in the U.S. earn an annual salary of $46,910.

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However, some massage therapists earn far less, and others, far more than average. In 2021, the lowest 10% of massage therapists earned less than $24,450, while the highest 10% earned more than $77,600.

Your earnings will depend on many factors, including your experience, skills, location, and whether you work for yourself or an employer.

Experience

Massage therapists with more experience can earn higher hourly wages than those with less.

For example, a massage therapist with 10 to 19 years of experience can earn over $10 more per hour than those with less than a year’s experience. This equates to around $1,600 extra per month.

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Skills

The skills you have as a massage therapist can greatly impact your salary. For example, those with geriatrics skills generally earn 24% more than average.

Other high-paying skills include the following:

  • Holistic health

  • Rehabilitation

  • Deep tissue massage

  • Bodywork therapy

Location

The area where you work can also help you earn a lot more. For example, massage therapists in Seattle, Washington, can earn up to 61% more than average, while those working in Phoenix, Arizona, can earn 25% less.

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Work industries

Lastly, the industry you work in can also greatly impact how much you earn as a massage therapist. According to the BLS, licensed massage therapists earn the following average amounts, depending on where they work:

  • Offices of chiropractors: $58,930

  • Offices of all other health practitioners: $47,930

  • Personal care services: $44,710

  • Accommodation: $29,600

If you start your own practice, you can make more or less. Your income will depend on your rate and how many clients you have.

How to become a massage therapist: the steps required

While the exact process varies slightly by state, here are the general steps you can take to pursue a career in massage therapy:

1. Research state requirements

The first step is to research the requirements in your state. This may include completing a specific education or training course, passing a licensure exam, and maintaining continuing education requirements.

2. Complete a massage therapy program

Once you understand the requirements, you must complete a massage therapy program at an accredited institution. These programs may be offered at vocational schools, community colleges, or specialized massage therapy schools.

The program should provide you with the knowledge and hands-on experience necessary to pass the licensure exam and practice as a massage therapist.

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These programs often take around six months to complete. However, it might take longer if you live in a state with many requirements or only have the means to study part-time.

3. Gain experience

During your training program, you’ll need to gain industry experience by finishing anywhere from 330 to 1,000 hours of practical training. Many states require a certain number of working hours for you to qualify for a board-certified licensing exam.

You can pursue an internship in numerous settings, such as spas, wellness centers, or medical offices. This will give you the chance to work under the supervision of a licensed professional.

During your internship, you’ll also learn valuable skills, such as specific massage techniques, how to create tailored therapy plans, and how to communicate effectively with clients.

4. Obtain licensure

In most states, massage therapists must obtain a license before practicing. The licensure exam may include both written and practical components, and you may need to provide proof of your education and training.

Most states use the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam to determine an individual’s qualifications for licensure. This exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions that get increasingly more challenging.

5. Consider specialization

After obtaining your license, you may consider specializing in a particular massage therapy area. Some specializations include the following:

  • Prenatal massage

  • Sports massage

  • Medical massage

  • Myofascial release

  • Reflexology

  • Deep tissue

  • Aromatherapy

  • Acupuncture

  • Craniosacral therapy

You may require a specialty certification to be seen as an expert in a specific type of massage. Such a certification allows you to treat certain conditions, increasing your income potential. It also shows potential employers your dedication to self-improvement — making you more employable.

6. Apply for a full-time job

You can apply for full-time positions once you’ve gained the necessary experience and have your license. If you have a specialization, you can search for massage therapy jobs in your area of expertise.

To start your job search, simply go to Jobcase and type in your location and the position you’re looking for.

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You’ll get a list of possible positions to apply for.

When applying, remember to include all relevant training and skills on your resume to stand the best possible chance of getting the job. Learn how to highlight your hard skills on your resume.

7. Maintain licensure and continuing education

To maintain your license and stay up-to-date with industry developments, you must complete continuing education requirements on a regular basis. These may include attending workshops and conferences or taking online courses.

8. Start a private practice (optional)

If you plan on being self-employed with your own practice, consider taking business management and marketing courses to give you the skills to start the business from the ground up and bring in a constant flow of clients.

Career opportunities for massage therapists

As a massage therapist, various career opportunities are available in different industries and work environments. Here are some potential career paths you could consider:

Common work environments

Massage therapists can work in many different settings, including the following:

  • Spas and wellness retreats: Many massage therapists work in spas or wellness centers, providing massage therapy as part of a larger menu of services such as facials, body treatments, and yoga classes.

  • Medical settings: Massage therapists may work in medical settings such as hospitals, physical therapy clinics, or chiropractic offices, providing therapeutic massage to patients with specific medical conditions or injuries.

  • Sports and fitness centers: Massage therapists may work with athletes or fitness enthusiasts in sports clinics, gyms, or athletic clubs to help improve performance, prevent injuries, and aid recovery.

  • Cruise ships and resorts: Some massage therapists work on cruise ships or at resorts, providing massage therapy to travelers.

Animal massage therapists

Some massage therapists specialize in providing massage therapy to animals, like horses, dogs, and cats.

Animal massage therapy can help improve an animal’s mobility, reduce pain, and promote relaxation and well-being. Animal massage therapists may work in veterinary clinics, pet spas, or other animal-related businesses.

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Self-employed massage therapists

Many massage therapists start their own businesses and work as independent contractors or sole proprietors. This can involve setting up a home-based practice or renting a wellness center or spa space.

Self-employed professionals may have more flexibility in setting their hours and rate. However, they also need to handle the administrative aspects of running a business, including scheduling appointments, billing clients, and marketing their services.

Start your journey to become a massage therapist

Follow the steps outlined in this article to pursue a career in the lucrative and rewarding massage therapy industry.

You’ll need to start by researching your state’s requirements. Then, you can enroll in a massage therapy program, gain experience, and get your license.

You can also choose to specialize in a particular industry if you’d like to improve your employability and increase your income potential.

If you’d like extra help during your job search and application process, our Getting Hired Resource Center offers many tips and tricks.

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