Career Information for a Degree or Certification in Massage Therapy

Sep 26, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a massage therapist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

Massage therapists work in massage clinics, wellness centers, resorts, spas, sports clinics, fitness centers or rehabilitation centers. As of 2014, half of all massage therapists were self-employed. Their working hours and environment will depend on where they're employed and the needs of those particular clients, although many work evenings and weekends to accommodate their clients' work schedules.

Essential Information

Massage therapy is a practice of using touch to manipulate soft tissue of the body in order to reduce stress or fatigue and improve circulation. To work in this field, professional training and state licensure is usually required. Some states might also have city or county regulations for massage therapists.

Career Massage Therapist
Required Training Postsecondary massage program with 500+ hours of practical experience
Other Requirements Certification in most states
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 22% for massage therapists
Median Salary (2018)* $41,420 for massage therapists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Massage Therapy Overview

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), massage therapists might specialize in over 80 different types of massages, called modalities. Most specialize in several modalities. Massage therapists typically cater to the individual needs of the client to work on problem areas or to provide general relaxation.

Some popular modalities include acupressure and shiatsu massage, deep tissue massage, reflexology and aromatherapy. Acupressure and shiatsu involve applying pressure to specific points on the body. Deep tissue massage may be used on clients with aching muscles, including athletes. Reflexology uses points on the feet, ears and hands to stimulate wellness and balance in the body, and aromatherapy uses essential oils and lotions to relax the body and improve general circulation.

Work Environment

Massage therapists may choose to work in a massage clinic, wellness center, resort, spa, sports clinic, fitness center or rehabilitation center. They may start their own businesses. Most massage centers offer flexible hours to accommodate their clients such as after work hours or weekend availability. Some massage therapists also travel to provide massage at the client's location, and some may offer seated or chair massage at the workplace. They may work full time or part time. According to the BLS, in 2018, approximately half of massage therapists worked part time and were self employed.


Massage therapy education is offered by public and private postsecondary institutes. Programs offer practical training in different massage techniques, along with coursework. The coursework may include anatomy and physiology, business management, kinesiology and ethics.

Training and Certification

The laws regulating massage therapy vary by state. One must check laws governing the state regarding the education and examinations the state in which one will practice require for certification.

The Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) is a professional organization providing liability insurance and support to massage therapists and students. The most common exams required for practicing massage therapists included the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) certification exam, the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) developed by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) and the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB). A passing score on the NCCAOM certification examination demonstrates entry-level competency as an acupuncturist. A passing score on the MBLEx and NCBTMB demonstrates entry-level skills as a massage therapist.

Occupational Outlook and Earnings

According to the BLS, employment of massage therapists was expected to increase by 22% from 2018-2028. The BLS reported that in May 2018, the median yearly wage for massage therapists was $41,420. Some of the earnings of a massage therapist may come from tips.

State requirements for massage therapists vary, and it is important to check state guidelines when planning a career in this field. Typically, a postsecondary training program is completed, as well as 500 hours of practical experience, before obtaining state certification. Some certification options may also qualify the massage therapist to work as an acupuncturist.

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