What Does a Massage Therapist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Woman receiving massage therapy for anxiety
Mosuno/Stocksy United

Massage therapists work in both the healthcare and hospitality industries, and are in high demand with faster than average growth expected in new jobs. Massage therapists work in clients’ homes, resorts, spas, fitness centers, and healthcare practitioners’ offices. Their training is versatile and can meet a wide variety of naturopathic health needs.

If you are interested in becoming a massage therapist, it could be because you or someone you know has experienced the benefits of deep tissue massage. Massage therapists use touch to treat clients by manipulating the muscles and other soft tissues of the body to relieve pain and heal injuries. Massage can also relieve migraines, reduce stress, improve circulation, and can help to restore full function after an injury. 

Massage Therapist Duties & Responsibilities

While massage therapy does not require as much training and expertise as other medical professions, it is an important field in healthcare. Muscle tension can be responsible for many injuries, and qualified massage therapists can find where that tension exists and relieve it to prevent more serious injuries. A massage therapist’s duties include:

  • Collaborating with clients on stress and pain in order to create a treatment plan
  • Assisting doctors and/or chiropractors in a patient’s physical therapy or recovery from injury
  • Exercising sensitivity to a client’s medical history and injuries while using massage to relieve pain and tension
  • Coaching clients on proper exercise, stretch, and relaxation techniques
  • Properly documenting all treatments
  • Maintaining treatment records
  • Recognizing health issues that need a referral to another healthcare provider

As a massage therapist, you will work extensively with your hands to locate stress and injuries. Knowing which parts of the muscles to target, as well as the appropriate amount of pressure to place on those parts comes with experience and training.

Massage Therapist Salary

While working as a massage therapist does not pay as much as some other healthcare occupations, it does provide an above-average median income. Additionally, a career of relieving pain and helping people overcome injuries offers a great deal of personal satisfaction. See below for the various salaries for massage therapists.

  • Median Annual Salary: $41,420
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $78,280
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $21,340

Education, Training, & Certification

Massage therapists are required to be licensed in most states and must complete a post-secondary program of 500 or more hours. You should expect to spend a year or two in training in order to meet your state’s minimum requirements.

  • Education: In most states, you need a high school diploma in order to begin training and complete licensing requirements to become a massage therapist. If you do not have a high school diploma, a GED will typically be sufficient.
  • Certification: All massage therapists must pass the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) or a state equivalent in order to acquire a license to practice. The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards regulates the industry for all practicing massage therapists.
  • Training: Many trade schools, colleges, and universities offer massage therapy programs. These programs usually require 500 - 1,000 hours of training in preparation for the MBLEx.

Massage Therapist Skills & Competencies

Massage therapy is a unique field that calls for a combination of soft (people) skills and physical skills. Massage therapists must know how to interact with customers who are in pain, while also remembering their training as they apply massage therapy. Here are some of the skills massage therapists need:

  • Customer Service: Massage therapists need to build rapport and interact with others with a high measure of patience and compassion.
  • Dexterity: Using your arms, hands, and fingers, you will need to be able to accomplish a great deal with slight, acute motions. You need to be fully mindful of your actions during a massage therapy session so that you can identify points of tension and properly apply pressure.
  • Physiology: All massage therapists must know what is inside the body. Physiology refers to the functioning of organs and tissue inside the body, including diseases that attack organs (including the skin) or injuries that have direct and indirect effects on all the parts of the body.
  • Kinesiology: Beyond identifying all the parts of the human body, kinesiology is the study of how these parts move and interact. You will often be working with patients that have recurring injuries as a result of certain kinds of motion and impact. Your job will often include advising these patients on how to properly stretch or adjust their form so that these injuries are less frequent.
  • Physical Stamina: Squeezing and kneading muscles for hours at a time is very taxing on your hands and fingers. Therefore, massage therapists must develop significant physical stamina.

Job Outlook

Massage therapy is a fast-growing occupation for two reasons. First, states are placing stronger restrictions on massage therapists as a result of attempts to treat patients without the proper credentials. Second, more fields within healthcare are recognizing the benefits of massage therapy for their patients.

As such, massage therapy is one of the fastest-growing professions in the US with an expected job increase of 26% by 2026.

Work Environment

Many massage therapists are self-employed. This means that they can work out of their home, make house calls, or work part-time at a doctor’s office (often alongside chiropractors). Other massage therapists work at healthcare offices, spas, fitness centers, and resorts.

Work Schedule

Full-time massage therapists may see as many as five patients each day for sessions lasting an hour to an hour and a half. For many people, this is very strenuous. That’s why if you choose to be a massage therapist, a key part of your training will be learning how to pace yourself and developing physical endurance while on the job.

How to Get the Job

Prepare for a Job Search The first step is to find out your state’s requirements for massage therapists. Commit to your training so that you can pass your MBLEx as soon as possible. Make sure to add your qualifications to your resume.

Network As you begin your practice, it is important to network with other professionals. People will gladly refer you to others as you demonstrate your ability to relieve stress and pain.

Apply for Jobs If you are looking for a job as an employee (rather than as self-employed), check the top job boards. Most of them allow you to search by your profession. You can begin applying once your training is complete.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Here are some related professions with their median salaries: