How to Become a Massage Therapist

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How to Become a Massage Therapist

What massage therapists do

Massage therapists use touch to manipulate the muscles and soft tissues in the bodies of their clients in order to aid in relaxation, pain relief, injury rehabilitation and stress reduction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (, 2012) reports duties of massage therapists may include discussing symptoms and medical histories with clients, finding areas of pain or tenseness in a client’s body, using massage to knead and manipulate the muscles of a client’s body, and providing clients with information and instructions regarding follow-up exercises and stretches the client can do on his or her own.

Massage therapy is a physical job which requires the practitioner to have stamina and strength. A massage therapist may be called upon to use hands, fingers, forearms and elbows to work on the muscles of a client’s body. Massages can last up to an hour or even longer in some instances. The majority of massage therapists work in personal care services, chiropractic offices, hotels and motels, and fitness centers, according to the BLS.

How to become a massage therapist

According to the BLS, massage therapists must usually complete education past high school that may require 500 hours or more of training and experience, depending on the geographical area of practice. Massage therapy students may have the opportunity to study anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, business management, ethics and more. Students will usually also be required to engage in hand-on training by working on people.

Massage therapists may benefit from having the qualities of good communicator and decision maker, empathy, and physical strength, according to the BLS.

Although steps to become a massage therapist may vary according to local and state jurisdiction requirements, the path to becoming a massage therapist may include the following steps:

  • Graduate from high school with a diploma, GED or equivalent
  • Enroll in and successfully complete a massage therapy course of study, which will include hands-on training
  • Pass a licensing or certification exam and become licensed (requirements vary)
  • Renew license as required
  • Apply for employment

There are two nationally recognized massage therapy exams: the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) and the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB). Those interested in pursuing a career in massage therapy should check with their state and local licensing boards to see which test is required.

Additional certification, training, education or professional experience may be required for employment.

Career outlook for massage therapists

The BLS projects an expected growth rate of up to 20 percent in the employment of massage therapists from 2010 to 2020. The BLS attributes many reasons for this growth, including the growth in number of spas and massage clinic franchises, increased licensing requirements leading to a greater respect and acceptance of the practice of massage therapy, and the recognized benefit of massage therapy for all types of people, including the elderly. In May 2011, the BLS reported a national annual wage of $35,830 median for massage therapists. The lowest 10 percent earned up to $18,300 nationally and the top 10 percent earned up to $69,070 nationally. Wages vary according to a number of factors including number of years of experience, location of practice and more.

According to the BLS, the following industries employed the most massage therapists in 2011: personal care services, health practitioner offices, traveler accommodations, amusement and recreation industries, and physician offices. States with the highest employment level of massage therapists include California, Florida, Texas, Washington and Illinois.

Quick Facts: Massage Therapists
*All facts from*

2011 Median Pay

$35,830 per year; $17.23 per hour

Entry-Level Education

Postsecondary non-degree award

Work Experience in a Related Occupation


On-the-job Training


Number of Jobs, 2011


Job Outlook, 2010-20

20% nationally  (Faster than national average)

Employment Change, 2010-20




Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Massage Therapists,

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011, 31-9011 Massage Therapists,