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Considering Work as a Massage Therapist?

Nature of Work

Health care is a modern necessity. Nursing and health care technician jobs are often unglamorous, but have the potential to be vastly rewarding in personal, financial, and intellectual ways, providing interesting challenges and opportunities for enthusiastic people. There are numerous degrees available for different types of work in the medical field. One job that is in high demand is for massage therapists.

Massage therapists are often part-time and self-employed workers and many states require both formal training and licensure in order to practice massage therapy. Employment outlook is good though, and is expected to grow faster than average.

Massage therapists use touch to manipulate soft-tissue muscles in the body. They treat painful ailments, decompressing tired and overworked muscles, reducing stress, rehabilitating sports injuries, and promoting general health.

Massage therapists can choose to specialize in over 80 different types of massage, called modalities, including Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, reflexology, acupressure, sports massage, and neuromuscular massage. Each requires different techniques, and most massage therapists specialize in several different modalities. A massage session often ranges from 5 or 10 minutes to 2 hours. The type of massage required will vary based on the client's needs and physical condition.

Before beginning work on a client, the massage therapist will hold an informal interview with the client to gather relevant information including medical history and desired results. During the interview, the therapist and client can discuss which techniques are likely to help and which should be avoided. Because a massage therapist cannot specialize in all modalities, the interview will often lead to a referral to a different therapist who can perform the desire type of massage.

Work Environment

Massage therapists who are self employed should provide their own table or chair, sheets, pillows, and lotions or oils. They work in a variety of settings, both private and public, including homes, private offices, studios, hospitals, nursing homes, fitness centers, sports medicine facilities, airports, or shopping malls. Massage therapists should strive to develop a good rapport with their clients in order to secure repeat customers and consequently a steady stream of work.

This work is physically demanding, and massage therapists can sustain significant injuries if precise technique is not practiced. Common strains are from standing for extended periods of time and from repetitive-stress or repetitive-motion injuries. Because of the physical toll of the work and because of the transit and rest time needed in between sessions, most massage therapists work less than 40 hours a week. Indeed, those who work 15 to 30 hours a week often consider themselves to be full-time workers because of the time it takes to travel to appointments, set up equipment, and maintain administrative duties such as billing.

Training and Other Qualifications

In 2009, 42 States and also Washington D.C. had laws regulating massage therapy. States often require practicing massage therapists to complete a formal education program and pass an examination. Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming do not have licensure requirements but in these States, massage therapy may be regulated at the local level.

Education programs can be pursued in private or public postsecondary institutions and can require 500 hours of study or more to complete. A high school diploma or GED is usually required for admission. Courses of study cover topics such as anatomy, physiology, organs, tissues, kinesiology, motion and body mechanics, business management, ethics, and hands-on practice of massage techniques. Training programs will often provide graduate services such as post-grad job placement and continuing educational services. Training programs can be either full-time or part-time.

A good massage therapist should have strong communication skills, an empathetic personality, and the ability to establish trusting relationships with clients. Healing massage often brings up delicate issues for clients and it is important that they be able to trust the professional massaging them.


In 2008, massage therapists held about 122,400 jobs in the U.S. and about 57 percent were self-employed. Those who were self-employed generally owned their own business or worked as independent contractors. Work can also be found in the offices of physicians and chiropractors, fitness and recreational sports centers, and hotels. Employment opportunities are often concentrated in metropolitan areas, resorts, and destination locales.

Job Outlook

Experts expect that employment of massage therapists will grow faster than average, but the work will often be only part-time. Job opportunities are expected to increase 19 percent from 2008 to 2018, fueled by increased public awareness of the health benefits of massage therapy. While the state licensure may seem egregious, the governmental regulation and established standards for quality will probably make the profession more respected and accepted amongst the population.

Work will be part-time when a massage therapist is first starting out and before they have established a steady clientele.


Median hourly wages of massage therapists, including gratuities, were $16.78 in May 2008 with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $8.01, and the highest 10 percent earning more than $33.47. Because many therapists work part time, yearly earnings can vary considerably, depending on the therapist’s schedule. Generally, massage therapists earn some portion of their income as gratuities, but tipping is not common in a hospital or other clinical setting.

Related occupations include work as an athletic trainer, chiropractor, physical therapist assistant or aide, or physical therapist.

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