Becoming a Professional Massage Therapist

Massage Therapy Growing as a Career Opportunity

As public acceptance of massage has grown in the United States over the past 15 years, the number of massage therapists has risen dramatically. AMTA estimates that the number of massage therapists in the United States, including students, is between 280,000 and 320,000.

The number of massage therapy training programs in the United States has leveled out and even decreased slightly in the past two years.  There are currently approximately 1,120 massage therapy schools and programs offering training of at least 500 initial hours.

Training programs in massage therapy generally require a high school diploma, though postsecondary education is useful. Previous studies in broad subjects such as science (especially anatomy and physiology), business and humanities are helpful.

Variations on Massage Therapy Careers

There is no such thing as “a standard massage therapy practice.” One of the reasons individuals choose this profession is because of the flexibility it offers in terms of work hours, independence, and choice of practice locations and types.

Massage therapists can work full time or part-time.  It is important to note that due to the physical demands of massage, full time is defined as 17 or more hours of actual massage per week.  Massage therapists spend additional time on things like scheduling, billing, housekeeping, marketing, etc.  According to 2009 AMTA surveys, massage therapists earn an average wage of $45 an hour (including tips) for all massage related work.  More than half of massage therapists (54 percent) also earn income working in another profession.

Income levels for massage therapists vary by region of the country, experience and type of practice.

Settings in Which Massage Therapists Practice

Massage therapists practice in a variety of settings and locations and in a variety of contractual arrangements. A therapist may also practice at several different sites and/or settings in a single day. Some examples of locations in which massage therapists practice are:

  • massage office
  • group practice
  • office in home
  • physicians’ offices and clinics
  • hospitals and wellness centers
  • nursing homes/hospices
  • chiropractic offices
  • on-site (chair massage in offices, airports, at public events, etc.)
  • health clubs and fitness centers
  • sports teams and events (amateur and professional)
  • hotels
  • spas and resorts
  • beauty and hair salons
  • cruise ships

While massage therapists work in a variety of work environments, sole practitioners or independent contractors account for the largest percentage of practicing therapists (96 percent).  Thirty-eight percent work at least part of their time at a client’s home/business/corporate setting or their home, 25 percent in a healthcare setting, and 23 percent in a spa setting.

Modalities Practiced by Massage Therapists

The massage therapy profession includes practitioners of many modalities and specialties.

The five most commonly practiced massage types are:

  • Swedish
  • Trigger point/neuromuscular
  • Deep Tissue
  • Sports Massage
  • Shiatsu

Who Chooses Massage as a Career?

Eighty five percent of AMTA members are female, and 15 percent are male. Over half of AMTA members are ages 35 to 54; the median age is 44.

The Path to a Career in Massage Therapy

Pursuing a career in massage therapy often involves three steps:

  1. Complete a training program that will qualify you to practice in the location you choose

  2. Become nationally certified by passing the National Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork

  3. Meet the requirements of your state or municipality (such as obtaining a license or other credential, if you practice in an area where massage therapy is regulated).

To find a school or program near you, see a listing of AMTA Massage Schools.

Accreditation of Schools and Programs

Accreditation of a school or program by the United States Department of Education (USDE) ensures the education provided meets an accepted level of quality training. Several accrediting bodies offer voluntary accreditation of massage programs and/or schools including the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS), the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). For more information, visit: www.comta.org; www.naccas.org; www.accsct.org; www.abhes.org/

National Certification

Certification by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) is an indication that a massage therapist has attained a particular professional credential. Regulatory bodies in 38 states (as of 2010) accept a passing grade on the National Certification Exam (NCE) as a minimal requirement before a massage therapist is allowed to legally practice. Eleven states require it. In other states, it provides massage therapists with a credential beyond the entry-level exam required to practice.

For more information about NCBTMB, visit www.ncbtmb.com.

Massage Laws and Regulations

43 states, plus Washington, D.C., currently regulate massage and several others are moving toward statewide regulation/licensing. Most states require a minimum number of hours of training, passing an exam to demonstrate competency (for instance, passing the MBLEx or the NCE), and continuing education to practice.  The MBLEx is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. 24 states and Washington, D.C. accept the MBLEx for licensing, with Arkansas requiring it..  Learn more about the MBLEx.

View the most recent list of states and their regulation of massage therapy.

The Importance of Joining a Professional Association

The American Massage Therapy Association is a non-profit, professional association, created in 1943 by massage therapists, for massage therapists. Its mission is to serve its members while advancing the art, science and practice of massage therapy. The association requires its members to abide by its Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

It offers professional, student, school and supporting memberships. To learn more about AMTA and its benefits of membership click here.

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"AMTA friends have become a second family to me. There are so many benefits as an AMTA member, but the connections and friendships are what I value over everything!"

Pat C., AMTA member since 2003

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AMTA has long been the leading choice among massage therapists looking to establish themselves within the profession. We provide our members with the strongest benefits and promote massage therapy to the public and health care community.

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