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How to Become a Massage Therapist

Massage therapists help soothe physical aches and pains and bring relaxation to their clients. If you want to work in a career where you help people, and if you’re interested in anatomy, a career as a licensed massage therapist may be right for you.

Massage therapists have the flexibility to work in a variety of environments, including as mobile massage therapists who own their own businesses. Some massage therapists choose to specialize in working with specific clients, such as in areas like prenatal massage therapy or athletic massage.

If you want to work with your hands and provide a service that helps clients lead healthier lifestyles, read this guide for what to expect as a massage therapist, how to become one and what a Massage Therapy program is like.

What Does a Massage Therapist Do?

Massage therapists use physical touch to manipulate muscles and soft tissues in a process called massage. People seek massage for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Relaxation and stress relief
  • Pain relief
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved circulation and overall health and well-being

Massages can range anywhere from 10 minutes on a specific body part, to 2 hours or longer for an all-over body massage. When a massage therapist meets with a client, the therapist (sometimes called a masseuse) will typically conduct an intake session. The therapist will ask the client why they’re seeking a massage and identify any sore or tender areas they have and any injuries the therapist should be aware of.

During the massage, the client may either be fully clothed or partially clothed, depending on preference. Some therapists will use tools like lotion, oil or hot stones during the massage.

With the client’s goals and physical condition in mind, the massage therapist will massage the body to improve relaxation and relieve and prevent long-term pain. Massage therapists typically use their hands, while some may also use body parts such as elbows and feet to deliver massage. Massage therapists communicate with clients during the massage to ensure the session is pain-free.

After a massage session, the masseuse will provide the client with recommendations, which may include hydration, posture guidelines and stretching exercises. The therapist will also recommend an ongoing massage plan to help the client achieve their goals.

Massage therapists keep track of client records and progress to continually optimize the massage they provide to their clients.

Different Types of Massage Therapists

There are a wide variety of massage therapy techniques available. The following are some prominent massage therapy specialties.

  • Chair massage: Chair massage is performed on a client who is sitting on a chair with their back to the masseuse. Chair massages are typically performed on clients who are fully clothed. The setup is conducive to mobile massage, so it’s a common form of massage done in offices and in public settings to provide quick relaxation.
  • Deep tissue massage: An integrated deep tissue massage therapist specializes in providing deep pressure to specific areas of the body that may have scar tissue as a result of injury, inflammation, poor posture and repetitive motion. A deep tissue massage therapist massages muscle tissue, tendons and fascia that surround bones, muscles and joints requiring attention. Over time, deep tissue massage can increase range of motion, provide injury relief and improve posture.
  • Hot stone massage: Hot stone massage integrates the use of smooth, heated stones with oil in massage. A registered massage therapist who specializes in hot stone massage will need to know how to effectively use the stones to promote circulation and avoid injury. Hot stone massage may be used for both relaxation and physical pain treatment to relieve muscle soreness.
  • Medical massage: A medical massage therapist, sometimes called a clinical massage therapist, is a licensed massage therapist who uses massage to treat those who have diagnosed health conditions. Medical massage therapists might help people who are cancer patients, who are in hospice, who have experienced injuries like a torn ligament or who have been diagnosed with disorders like fibromyalgia. Typically, a medical massage practitioner will work in a hospital or medical center, often on the same team as physicians and nurses to improve patient care.
  • Prenatal massage: A certified massage therapist who specializes in prenatal massage will be an expert on the unique physical needs of pregnant women. Prenatal massage may include different types of postures and techniques that are specifically designed for those who are pregnant.
  • Sports massage: Massage therapists who specialize in sports massage work with clients who are athletes and who want to prevent and recover from injury. Massage can help reduce athlete recovery time and improve athletic performance, which is why professional and serious athletes often include massage in their workout routines.
  • Swedish massage: Swedish massage is one of the most common forms of massage a bodywork therapist might specialize in. The massage therapist, sometimes called a therapeutic massage technician, uses a variety of strokes and pressure techniques to deliver all-over relaxation and improve circulation. Swedish massage can range from light pressure to heavy pressure.

There are also special types of massage that therapists may specialize in, such as reflexology, shiatsu and Thai massage.

Why Become a Massage Therapist?

Massage therapists are in high demand these days. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 21% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than average compared to all occupations.1

The BLS attributes massage therapist job growth to a few factors. One is that more states are requiring licensing and other standards in order for massage therapists to practice. This adds to the legitimacy of massage therapist work, which makes people more likely to seek out massage for wellness.

Another reason for the growth of massage therapy jobs is that physicians are increasingly recommending massages to their patients’ care plans. In some countries around the world, like in Australia, remedial massage is even covered by health insurance.2 As massage’s health care reputation increases, it’s also expected to be a more popular and more widely available form of treatment.

Massage Therapist Salary

Massage therapist pay depends on factors like the state you work in, your work environment and how much experience you have. Some massage therapists accept tips, which can also affect salary.

According to the BLS, the median annual massage therapist salary was $42,820 in May 2019.3 The 2019 median annual wages for massage therapists were highest for those who worked in offices of chiropractors, at $52,230. For massage therapists who worked in all other health practitioner offices, the 2019 median annual salary was $46,670. The highest 10% of all massage therapists earned more than $80,630.

Best States to Work as a Massage Therapist

The following are the top-paying states for massage therapists according to the BLS, along with the annual May 2019 mean wage.4

STATE ANNUAL MEAN WAGE, AS OF MAY 2019
Alaska $77,080
Washington $65,770
Oregon $62,130
Hawaii $59,770
Massachusetts $57,530

The following are the states with the highest employment levels for massage therapists as of May 2019, according to the BLS, along with employment data.5 These estimates do not include self-employed massage therapists, which the BLS reports make up the largest employment source for massage therapy, with 35% of massage therapists working as self-employed workers.6

STATE EMPLOYMENT
California 16,330
Florida 8,320
Texas 6,970
New York 6,580
Colorado 5,490

Start Your Career in Massage Therapy

Carrington College focuses on small class sizes and hands-on training. Here you’re more than a face in a room. Take the first step on your way to a new career in Massage Therapy.

Massage Therapist Jobs

There are massage therapy jobs in a variety of environments, from standalone massage therapy clinics to hotels and wellness resorts. Some massage therapists are solopreneurs, providing services as a self-employed massage therapist out of a rented room or by bringing massage therapy services directly to their clients.

The BLS reports in 2019 the largest massage therapy employers were as follows:7

  • Self-employed workers: 35%
  • Personal care services: 33%
  • Offices of all other health practitioners: 11%
  • Offices of chiropractors: 8%
  • Accommodation: 6%

Self-employed massage therapists have freedom to choose their own clients and work whatever hours they want. Massage therapists who work for a business owner must agree to the hours and pay their employer provides. Consider the differences between being self-employed or working as a massage therapist for someone else.

Self-employed:

  • You choose your schedule and how many hours a week you want to work.
  • You’re in charge of marketing yourself and getting clients and referrals.
  • You decide your work environment: mobile, renting out a room, having clients come to you, etc.
  • As a self-employed solopreneur, you must manage invoicing, expenses and business taxes.

Working for someone:

  • You work the hours you’re scheduled.
  • You receive a salary.
  • You get sales and marketing help from the business.
  • You don’t have to pay for things like massage therapy space.

Being self-employed provides many freedoms, but it can also be more demanding since you’re responsible for your income. Consider your comfort level with getting your own clients and managing your own business if you’re thinking about the self-employed route.

How to Become a Massage Therapist

Entering the field generally requires massage therapist training and licensure/certification. These are the steps you can expect to take for how to be a massage therapist.8

  1. Get educated. According to the BLS, education requirements will depend on the state or city you live in. Typically, you’ll need to complete at least 500 hours of study (or 1,000+ hours, in some cases) at a massage therapy school.9 To gain entrance into massage therapy school, the requirements are typically a high school diploma or equivalent. You’ll typically learn massage therapy techniques, anatomy, kinesiology, pathology, physiology and ethics in a massage therapy program.
  2. Obtain a license or certification. Check the massage therapist requirements for the state you want to work in to see if there’s a license or certification required. Typically, you’ll need to get licensed because massage therapy is a regulated industry in most states. It directly impacts people’s health and well-being, so you’ll need to meet education, training and exam requirements before you can get licensed and start legally working as a massage therapist. The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards offers the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), which is commonly used for massage therapy licensure.10
  3. Meet other state requirements. Depending on the state where you want to work as a massage therapist, you may need to meet other licensure requirements. These might include CPR training, passing a background check and obtaining liability insurance. To maintain a massage therapy license, you may have to complete continuing education.

Massage therapy is commonly regulated with licensing requirements in order to protect individuals and businesses. If you plan on being self-employed, you’ll still need to meet your state licensing requirements in order to provide massage legally. 

Also, check into requirements about where you can have a massage business. Some states may require that if you choose to offer massage from your home, your space has to have a separate entrance and meets zoning requirements in order for you to legally operate a massage business.

Massage Therapy Certification

Massage therapist certification is generally a straightforward process and easily obtainable if you’ve attended a credible massage therapy school. Masseuse license requirements will vary by state, but here’s an example of how to become a licensed massage therapist in Arizona.11

  • Applicant must have graduated from a massage school with a minimum of 500 hours.
  • If the applicant graduated from a massage school outside of Arizona, the applicant must have passed the national licensing exam from either the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork12 (NCBTMB) or the MBLEx.
  • Applicant must be at least 18 years old.
  • Applicant must be a citizen or legal resident of the United States.
  • Applicant must have either a high school diploma or general equivalency.
  • Within 5 years of application date, the applicant must not have been convicted of a class 1, 2 or 3 felony; a class 4, 5 or 6 felony with a reasonable relationship to the practice of massage therapy; or a misdemeanor involving prostitution or similar offense related to massage therapy.
  • Applicant must pass a background check.  

With an Arizona masseuse certificate, a massage therapist can apply to work at businesses in Arizona that offer massage therapy or may become a self-employed massage therapist. Similar massage therapy license processes take place throughout the U.S.

What to Look for in a Massage Therapy School

Before you compare massage therapist programs, it helps to research licensure requirements for the state you want to practice in. That way, you can choose one of the massage therapy programs that meets the requirements and can help you get licensed to work.

As you look at massage therapist classes, consider these factors.

  • Cost: Many factors go into the cost of massage therapy school. Most post-secondary education programs will have tuition. Also, think about the cost of relocation if you choose to pursue a program away from home. You can save money by choosing a local program. Ask the school you’re considering about financial aid options like grants, scholarships and loans.
  • Instructor quality: Ask about the experience that instructors at a massage school have. Ideally, you’ll want to learn from instructors who have diverse professional experience so you can get a well-rounded massage therapy education.  
  • Hands-on experience: Getting to practice actual massage frequently is an important part of massage therapy school. Ask about what to expect from massage therapist course curriculum and the type of hands-on experience you’ll receive.
  • Licensure preparation: Some massage therapist schools will design the curriculum so it prepares students to become licensed and complete a national exam like the MBLEx. This is helpful, because it makes the licensing process go more smoothly since students know exactly what to expect.
  • Career services: If you’re attending massage therapy school, you’re probably interested in working as a massage therapist. Some schools offer professional externship experiences, and some will provide career services to help you obtain a position after graduation.

Also, make sure the school you attend teaches the kinds of massage you’re interested in. Some schools teach a wide variety, so you’re prepared to provide clients with their preferred massage method.

How Long is Massage Therapy School?

Massage therapist school typically requires at least 500 hours of education for graduation. Some schools will have longer programs so that you can meet minimum state licensing requirements. You may be able to complete massage therapy school in as few as nine months. If you attend a part-time program or program where you design your own schedule, the program could take longer.

Can I Study Massage Therapy Online?

There are massage therapist school online options, but they don’t include the hands-on training you’d get from an in-person school. Since massage therapy is a hands-on practice, many massage therapy students prefer being able to get real-time feedback on massage therapy techniques from an experienced instructor.

Also, consider that depending on your state’s licensing requirements, you may be required to attend an accredited massage therapy school. Not all online massage therapy schools are accredited. That means you could waste time and money attending one if your goal is to become a licensed massage therapist.

Discover Your Career as a Massage Therapist

Carrington College’s Massage Therapy Program offers you the hands-on training you need for a job as Massage Therapist. Take the first step on your way to a new career.

What Will I Learn in Carrington’s Massage Therapy Courses?

Carrington College includes Massage Therapy as part of the available Medical Programs to take.14 The program takes as few as nine months to complete and prepares students to pass the MBLEx for massage therapy licensure.*

*Carrington College prepares students to take appropriate certification and licensure exams related to their individual majors. The College does not guarantee students will successfully pass these exams or be certified or licensed as a result of completing the program.

Carrington College’s Massage Therapy program teaches students a variety of massage therapy knowledge. Massage therapy courses include:

  • In-depth anatomy and physiology, including organ systems, skeletal systems and muscular systems
  • Hands-on, instructor-led massage therapy practice
  • Variety of massage techniques, including Swedish, deep tissue, chair massage, shiatsu, aromatherapy, hot stone massage and sports massage
  • Business, ethical and legal concerns in massage therapy

Students at Carrington College also complete an externship to gain professional massage experience.

Upon graduation and passing the MBLEx, graduates are prepared to work in a variety of environments as licensed massage therapists, including chiropractor and health care offices, as well as to become self-employed massage therapists.

Massage Therapy Classes

The following are massage therapy classes you’ll take at Carrington College.15

  • Massage Therapy Theory 1: The anatomy and physiology of the skeletal and muscular systems are presented, as are the bones and major muscles of the back and pelvic and shoulder girdles. Professional development skills, including ethics, self-care and practice management are also covered.
  • Massage Applications and Lab 2: This course presents elements of deep-tissue and trigger-point technique as applied to the body. Techniques for special populations are also covered. Student skills are developed through participation, application and practice of each of these techniques
  • Externship: Students are assigned to a professional or clinical office that provides work experience in massage therapy. This externship course offers field experience in an actual work environment, providing an opportunity for students to practice, under direct supervision of a clinical instructor, skills they have learned. Student hours are tracked on a weekly time sheet that is submitted to the campus at the end of each week.

There are five massage therapy theory courses and five massage applications and lab courses before the externship. Students graduate with a certificate with 765 contact hours.

Prepare for a Career in Massage Therapy with Carrington College

Carrington College is a great choice for massage therapy training. Classes are taught by experienced instructors. Students learn a wide variety of massage therapy techniques and get real-world experience in an externship. Upon graduation, a massage therapy graduate is prepared to sit for the MBLEx and work as a massage therapist.

Massage therapy can be a fulfilling career when you want to help people achieve better health and wellness. If you enjoy working with your hands and are interested in human anatomy and physiology, consider a career as a massage therapist.

Learn more about Carrington College’s program, its benefits, and admission requirements by requesting more information.

Massage Therapist FAQ

How Long Does it Take to Become a Massage Therapist?

Typically, you’ll need to complete at least 500 hours of study (or 1,000+ hours, in some cases) at a massage therapy school.17 Your state may require licensing, certification or additional education.

How Much Does a Massage Therapist Make?

The median annual salary massage therapists made was $42,820 in May 2019, according to the BLS.18 The highest 10% of all massage therapists earned more than $80,630.

What Is the Massage Therapist Job Outlook?

The job outlook for massage therapists is bright, according to the BLS. Massage therapist jobs are projected to grow 21% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than average compared to all occupations.19

Where Do Massage Therapists Work?

According to the BLS, these are the largest massage therapy employers:20

  • Self-employed workers: 35%
  • Personal care services: 33%
  • Offices of all other health practitioners: 11%
  • Offices of chiropractors: 8%
  • Accommodation: 6%

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