Massage therapists methodically apply focused, hands-on techniques to promote relaxation and increase circulation in the body’s soft tissues (muscles, tendons, connective tissue, etc.). Although the warming and stimulating effect of massage has a positive effect on joint mobility and range of motion, direct work on the skeleton is outside the massage therapists’ scope of practice.
In recent years, massage has gained attention from the National Institutes of Health and other respected sectors of the health care community as a highly effective complementary and alternative medical therapy.
The news about the health benefits of massage should come as no surprise, since it is one of the oldest “healing arts” – dating back to 2700 B.C., when it was first recorded as a therapeutic technique in the ancient traditional Chinese medicine treatise, The Yellow Emporer’s Classic of Internal Medicine.
Today, therapeutic massage is employed throughout the health care system – in hospitals, long-term care facilities and private clinics, for patients ranging from premature infants to the elderly. Many hospices have massage therapists on staff, and massage is frequently offered in wellness centers, drug treatment programs and pain clinics.
While many choose to practice independently, professional massage therapists also may work closely with other members of the health care team – i.e., physicians, physical therapists, rehabilitation counselors, chiropractors and acupuncturists, among others.
Virtually all massage therapists in the United States are trained in Swedish and deep tissue techniques; in addition, they may specialize in other methods and adjunct modalities, such as:
- Connective tissue massage
- Infant massage
- Lomi-Lomi (Hawaiian massage)
- Manual lymphatic drainage
- Pregnancy massage
- Sports massage
- Thai massage
- Trager Method
- Trigger point therapy
- Tui Na (Traditional Chinese Medical massage)
Massage therapists work in a wide range of settings:
- A home-based or private practice or on-site work in clients’ homes
- Hospitals, nursing homes or wellness centers
- Corporate offices, shopping malls, airport lobbies and similar places
- Fitness centers, salons or hotels
Most massage therapists are sole practitioners, and many work part-time because the work can be physically demanding. Many therapists use their massage practice as an adjunct to another profession, earning approximately half their income from massage. The average amount of hands-on work for most massage therapists is 15 hours per week (excluding administrative tasks, such as keeping client health records, bookkeeping, marketing, scheduling, maintaining supplies, etc.).
Salary Range and Outlook
Hourly fees for massage therapy vary widely, depending upon geographic location and work setting. For instance, a massage therapist at a high-end urban salon might charge $75 to $90/hour, whereas a sole proprietor working out of his or her home in a small town may charge no more than $40 or $50. The average nationwide rate is $65/hour, although the rate is generally higher in large metropolitan areas.
To become a massage therapist, you must graduate from an established program providing supervised instruction that meets state or local minimum requirements. These requirements vary by state from 500 initial hours to 1,000 hours. Most massage therapy schools and programs are accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting organization.
The standard massage curriculum includes coursework in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pathology, ethics and business, as well as hands-on work in both basic and specialized massage techniques.
After graduating from massage school, therapists will need to meet state standards, and/or municipal requirements, which usually require passing a one of two tests recognized by the regulating body before they can practice.
Becoming nationally certified is optional, but may be a requirement in a few states. To become certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), a massage therapist must have graduated from a state-licensed massage program with at least 500 hours of formal training and pass the NCBTMB national exam.
Learn More About a Career as a Massage Therapist
- Watch the video profile, “Massage Therapists,” (which is located in the Human Services category).
- American Massage Therapy Association
- National Association of Complementary and Alternative Medicines
- National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork