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 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. In 2018, the estimated number of massage therapists in the United States was 361,683, a 1% increase from 2017.

Related: Data on Consumer Use of Massage Therapy

There are currently 265+ accredited massage therapy institutions in the United States. Many institutions have multiple campuses. Training programs in massage therapy generally require a high school diploma, though post-secondary 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. 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 (74 percent). Fifty-nine percent work at least part of their time at a client's home/business/corporate setting, 23 percent in a health care setting, 24 percent in a spa setting and 29 percent at their home. Refer to the Industry Fact Sheet for more data.

Related: AMTA's FREE Massage Career Guides

The Path to a Career in Massage Therapy

Want to know how to become a massage therapist? 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 the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx).
  3. To find a school or program near you, see a listing of AMTA School members. 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 Arts and Sciences (NACCAS), the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), 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), and continuing education to practice. The MBLEx is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.

Credentials for the massage therapy profession

Learn more about the MBLEx

States and their regulation of massage therapy

Board Certification

Board certification can be obtained from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) and indicates that a massage therapist has attained a higher level of achievement beyond entry level licensure. Board certification is the highest voluntary credential available to massage therapists. 

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 online and face-to-face, discounted products and services to build and stock your practice, and access to AMTA's passionate massage therapy community

Related: AMTA Membership Levels & Benefits

Explore AMTA member benefits » 

AMTA data on the massage profession »  




"AMTA is very supportive. I definitely am glad I chose to be an AMTA member."

Bailey L., AMTA member since 2016