Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the soft-tissues of the body. With their touch, therapists relieve pain, help rehabilitate 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 symptoms, medical history, and desired results
  • Evaluate clients to locate painful or tense areas of the body
  • Manipulate muscles or other soft tissues of the body
  • Provide clients with guidance on stretching, strengthening, overall relaxation, and how to improve their posture
  • Document client’s condition and progress

Massage therapists use touch to treat clients’ injuries and to promote 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. Some massage therapists suggest personalized treatment plans for their clients. They also may offer clients information about additional relaxation techniques to practice between sessions. 

Massage therapists can specialize in many different types of massage, called 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.

Usually, the type of massage given 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 to pregnant women.

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

Work Environment: 

Massage therapists held about 132,800 jobs in 2012. About 46 percent of massage therapists were self-employed in 2012.

Massage therapists work in an array of settings, both private and public, such as private offices, spas, hospitals, and fitness centers. Some massage therapists also travel to clients’ homes or offices to give a massage. Most 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 location and what the client wants. For example, a massage meant to help rehabilitate a client with an injury may be conducted in a well-lit setting with several other clients receiving treatment in the same room. But when giving a massage to help clients relax, massage therapists generally work in dimly lit settings and use candles, incense, and calm, soothing music.

Injuries and Illnesses

Because 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

Many massage therapists work part time; only about 1 out of 3 worked full time in 2012.

Because therapists work by appointment in most cases, their schedules and the number of hours worked each week vary considerably. In addition to giving massages, therapists, especially those who are self-employed, may spend time recording client notes, marketing, booking clients, washing linens, and conducting other general business tasks.

Education and Training: 

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 locality. Most states regulate massage therapy and require massage therapists to have a license or certification.

Education

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

A high school diploma or equivalent degree is usually required for admission. Massage therapy 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 and continuing education. Both full-time and part-time programs are available.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In 2012, 44 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 after graduating from an approved program and before practicing massage. Passing an exam is usually required for licensure.

The exam may be solely a state exam or one of two nationally recognized tests: the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB). Massage therapy licensure boards decide which certifications and tests to accept on a state-by-state basis.

Therapists also may need to pass a background check 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 other 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.

Decision-making 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.

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.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for massage therapists was $35,970 in May 2012. 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 $18,420, and the top 10 percent earned more than $70,140.

Most massage therapists earn a combination of wages and tips.

Many massage therapists work part time; only about 1 out of 3 worked full time in 2012. 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 client notes, marketing, booking clients, washing linens, and conducting other general business tasks.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, 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 increase as these services become part of treatment plans.

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, some sports teams hire massage therapists to help give their athletes relief from pain and to rehabilitate clients with injuries.

Demand for massage services will grow as the baby-boom generation seeks these services as a way to help maintain their health as they age. Older people in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities also are finding benefits from massage, such as increased energy levels and reduced health problems. Demand for massage therapy should grow among older age groups because they increasingly are enjoying longer, more active lives.

In addition, 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 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 to work only part time until they can build their own client base.

Because referrals are an important source of work for massage therapists, marketing and networking will increase the number of job opportunities. Joining a professional association also can help build strong contacts and further increase the likelihood of steady work.

It may also be helpful for massage therapists who are seeking to attract new clients to complete education programs in specific modalities.

For More Information: 

For more information about careers in massage therapy, visit

Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals

American Massage Therapy Association

For more information on national testing and national certification, visit

Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards

National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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