Starting a Career in Massage Therapy: What You Need to Know

One of the most frequent comments massage therapists make about their occupation is "I feel fortunate to have found work I love." They feel this way because a career in massage therapy allows them to help people in a meaningful way with a high degree of personal contact. Massage therapy provides an opportunity to express very positive values about caring and well-being in their work in a way that is both personally and professionally rewarding.

Massage Therapy Growing as a Career Opportunity

As massage therapy has become increasingly important in the health and wellness professions, the number of massage therapists has risen dramatically. AMTA estimates that the number of massage therapists in the United States, including students, is between 300,000 and 340,000.

There are currently more than 350 accredited massage therapy institutions in the United States, with a total of more than 700 campuses accredited. Many institutions have multiple campuses.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 and marketing, to name a few.

Income levels for massage therapists vary by region of the country, experience and type of practice. For more information on the massage therapy profession, check out AMTA's Industry Fact Sheet.

Settings in Which Massage Therapists Practice

Massage therapists practice in a variety of settings and locations and in a variety of contractual arrangements. Some examples of locations in which massage therapists practice are:

While massage therapists work in a variety of work environments, sole practitioners account for the largest percentage of practicing therapists (69 percent). Forty-eight percent work at least part of their time at a client's home, 27 percent in a health care setting, 25 percent in a spa setting and 17 percent at a client's workplace.

» Read AMTA's Career Success Series to gain a first-hand look at what it is required to work in several different settings. Find interview tips, salary and benefit information, long-term outlook and more.

The Path to a Career in Massage Therapy

Pursuing a career in massage therapy often involves three steps:

  1. Complete a training program at a massage therapy school that will qualify you to practice in the location you choose.
  2. Upon graduation, 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). This will most likely require passing an exam, the most common being the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) or an exam administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.
  3. Become nationally certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. Certification is required in many states and in others provides massage therapists with a credential beyond the entry-level exam required to practice. To find a school or program near you, see a listing of AMTA Massage Schools. Become an AMTA student member to receive benefits and make the most of your time in school.

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).

Massage Laws and Regulations

Most states 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. More about credentials for the massage therapy profession.

Learn more about the MBLEx.

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

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 many states accept a passing grade on the National Certification Exam (NCE) as a minimal requirement before a massage therapist is allowed to legally practice. In other states, it provides massage therapists with a credential beyond the entry-level exam required to practice. Now, too, is the time to upgrade to AMTA's Graduate membership.

For more information, visit the NCBTMB website.

The Importance of Joining a Professional Association

The American Massage Therapy Association is a nonprofit, 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.

AMTA offers Professional, Student, Graduate, School and Supporting memberships. We provide comprehensive liability insurance, rigorously vetted education opportunities--both online and face-to-face, discounted products and services to build and stock your practice, and access to AMTA's passionate community of 56,000 membersLearn more about AMTA and the many benefits of membership! 

Join AMTA Today!

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"AMTA is non-profit which helps me feel like my membership is already doing some good."

Chris B., AMTA member since 2012

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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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