Massage Therapists

Summary

massage therapists image
Massage therapists use touch to manipulate a client’s muscles and other soft tissues.
Quick Facts: Massage Therapists
2015 Median Pay $38,040 per year
$18.29 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 168,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 22% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 36,500

What Massage Therapists Do

Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. With their touch, therapists relieve pain, help heal injuries, improve circulation, relieve stress, increase relaxation, and aid in the general wellness of clients.

Work Environment

Massage therapists work in an array of settings, such as spas, franchised clinics, physicians’ offices, hotels, and fitness centers. Some massage therapists also travel to clients’ homes or offices to give a massage. 

How to Become a Massage Therapist

Massage therapists typically complete a postsecondary education program of 500 or more hours of study and experience, although standards and requirements vary by state or other jurisdictions. Most states regulate massage therapy and require massage therapists to have a license or certification.

Pay

The median annual wage for massage therapists was $38,040 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 22 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Continued growth in the demand for massage services will lead to new openings for massage therapists.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for massage therapists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of massage therapists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about massage therapists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Massage Therapists Do

Massage therapists
Massage therapists knead muscles and other soft tissues of the body to provide treatment for injuries and to promote general wellness.

Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. With their touch, therapists relieve pain, help heal injuries, improve circulation, relieve stress, increase relaxation, and aid in the general wellness of clients.

Duties

Massage therapists typically do the following:

  • Talk with clients about their symptoms, medical history, and desired results
  • Evaluate clients to locate painful or tense areas of the body
  • Manipulate muscles and other soft tissues of the body
  • Provide clients with guidance on stretching, strengthening, overall relaxation, and how to improve their posture
  • Document clients’ conditions and progress

Massage therapists use touch to treat clients’ injuries and to promote the clients’ general wellness. They use their hands, fingers, forearms, elbows, and sometimes feet to knead muscles and soft tissues of the body.

Massage therapists may use lotions and oils, and massage tables or chairs, when treating a client. A massage can be as short as 5–10 minutes or could last more than an hour.

Therapists talk with clients about what they hope to achieve through massage. Massage therapists may suggest personalized treatment plans for their clients, including information about additional relaxation techniques to practice between sessions. 

Massage therapists can specialize in many different types of massage or modalities. Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, and sports massage are just a few of the many modalities of massage therapy. Most massage therapists specialize in several modalities, which require different techniques.

The type of massage given typically depends on the client’s needs and physical condition. For example, therapists may use a special technique for elderly clients that they would not use for athletes. Some forms of massage are given solely to one type of client; for example, prenatal massage is given only to pregnant women.

Massage therapists who are self-employed may need to do business-related tasks such as marketing, booking appointments, and maintaining financial records. They may also have to buy supplies and do laundry.

Work Environment

Massage therapists
Massage therapists create an environment intended to make clients feel relaxed.

Massage therapists held about 168,800 jobs in 2014. About half of massage therapists were self-employed in 2014.

Massage therapists work in an array of settings, such as spas, franchised clinics, physicians’ offices, hotels, and fitness centers. Some massage therapists also travel to clients’ homes or offices to give a massage. Others work out of their own homes. Many massage therapists, especially those who are self-employed, provide their own table or chair, sheets, pillows, and body lotions or oils.

A massage therapist’s working conditions depend heavily on the venue in which the massage is performed and on what the client wants. For example, when giving a massage to help clients relax, massage therapists generally work in dimly lit settings and use candles, incense, and calm, soothing music. In contrast, a massage meant to help rehabilitate a client with an injury may be conducted in a well-lit setting with several other people receiving treatment in the same room.

Injuries and Illnesses

Because giving a massage is physically demanding, massage therapists can injure themselves if they do not use the proper techniques. Repetitive-motion problems and fatigue from standing for extended periods are most common.

Therapists can limit these risks by using good body mechanics, spacing sessions properly, exercising, and, in many cases, receiving a massage themselves regularly.

Work Schedules

About half of massage therapists worked part time in 2014.

Because therapists work by appointment in most cases, their schedules and the number of hours worked each week vary considerably. Moreover, because of the strength and endurance needed to give a massage, many therapists cannot perform massage services 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.

In addition to giving massages, therapists, especially those who are self-employed, may spend time recording clients’ notes, marketing, booking clients, washing linens, and conducting other general business tasks.

How to Become a Massage Therapist

Massage therapists
Massage therapists typically complete a postsecondary education program of 500 or more hours of study and experience.

Massage therapists typically complete a postsecondary education program of 500 or more hours of study and experience, although standards and requirements vary greatly by state or other jurisdiction. Most states regulate massage therapy and require massage therapists to have a license or certification.

Education

Education requirements for massage therapists vary greatly by state or locality. Education programs are typically found in private or public postsecondary institutions. Most programs require at least 500 hours of study for their completion; some programs require 1,000 or more hours.

A high school diploma or equivalent is usually required for admission to a massage therapy program. programs generally include both classroom study and hands-on practice of massage techniques. Programs cover subjects such as anatomy; physiology, which is the study of organs and tissues; kinesiology, which is the study of motion and body mechanics; pathology, which is the study of disease; business management; and ethics.

Programs may concentrate on certain modalities, or specialties, of massage. Several programs also offer job placement services and continuing education. Both full-time and part-time programs are available.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In 2014, 45 states and the District of Columbia regulated massage therapy. Although not all states license massage therapy, they may have regulations at the local level.

In states with massage therapy regulations, workers must get a license or certification before practicing massage. State regulations typically require graduation from an approved massage therapy program and passing an exam.

The exam may be a state-specific exam or the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) licensure exam, offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.

Therapists also may need to pass a background check, have liability insurance, and be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Many states require massage therapists to complete continuing education credits and to renew their license periodically. Those wishing to practice massage therapy should look into legal requirements for the state and locality in which they intend to practice.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Massage therapists need to listen carefully to clients in order to understand what they want to achieve through massage sessions.

Decisionmaking skills. Massage therapists must evaluate each client’s needs and recommend the best treatment on the basis of that person’s needs.

Empathy. Massage therapists must give clients a positive experience, which requires building trust between therapist and client. Making clients feel comfortable is necessary for therapists to expand their client base.

Integrity. Massage therapists often have access to client information such as medical histories. Therefore, they must be trustworthy and protect the privacy of their clients.

Physical stamina. Massage therapists may give several treatments during a workday and have to stay on their feet throughout massage appointments.

Physical strength and dexterity. Massage therapists must be strong and able to exert pressure through a variety of movements of the arms and hands when manipulating a client’s muscles.

Time-management skills. Massage therapists must tailor an appointment to a client’s specific needs. Therapists must use their appointment time wisely to help each client accomplish his or her goals.

Pay

Massage Therapists

Median annual wages, May 2015

Massage therapists

$38,040

Total, all occupations

$36,200

Other healthcare support occupations

$32,210

 

The median annual wage for massage therapists was $38,040 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $74,860.

Most massage therapists earn a combination of wages and tips.

About half of massage therapists worked part time in 2014. Because therapists work by appointment in most cases, their schedules and the number of hours worked each week vary considerably. In addition to devoting hours giving massages, therapists may spend time recording clients’ notes, marketing, booking clients, washing linens, and conducting other general business tasks.

Job Outlook

Massage Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Massage therapists

22%

Other healthcare support occupations

19%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 22 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Continued growth in the demand for massage services will lead to new openings for massage therapists.

As an increasing number of states adopt licensing requirements and standards for therapists, the practice of massage is likely to be respected and accepted by more people as a way to treat pain and to improve overall wellness.

Similarly, as more healthcare providers understand the benefits of massage, demand will likely increase as these services become part of treatment plans. However, demand in healthcare settings will be tempered by limited insurance coverage for massage services.

Massage also offers specific benefits to particular groups of people whose continued demand for massage services will lead to overall growth for the occupation. For example, many sports teams hire massage therapists to help their athletes rehabilitate from injuries and to relieve or manage pain.

The number of massage clinic franchises has increased in recent years. Many franchised clinics offer more affordable massages than those provided at spas and resorts, making massage services available to a wider range of customers.

However, demand for massage services may be limited by the overall state of the economy. During tough economic times, both the number of people who seek massage therapy and the frequency of their massages may decline.

Job Prospects

In states that regulate massage therapy, opportunities should be available to those who complete formal programs and pass a professionally recognized exam. However, new massage therapists should expect that it can take time build a client base.

Because referrals are an important source of work for massage therapists, marketing and networking may help increase the number of job opportunities. Joining a professional association also can help build strong contacts and further increase the likelihood of steady work. In addition, massage therapists may be able to attract a wider variety of clients by completing education programs in multiple modalities.

Employment projections data for massage therapists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Massage therapists

31-9011 168,800 205,200 22 36,500 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of massage therapists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
Physical therapist assistants and aides

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.

See How to Become One $42,980
Physical therapists

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of the rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.

Doctoral or professional degree $84,020
Athletic trainers

Athletic Trainers

Athletic trainers specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating muscle and bone injuries and illnesses.

Bachelor's degree $44,670

Exercise Physiologists

Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise programs that help patients recover from chronic diseases and improve cardiovascular function, body composition, and flexibility.

Bachelor's degree $47,010
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Massage Therapists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm (visited May 04, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015