Massage Therapist: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Explore the career requirements for massage therapists. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Holistic Health Practitioner degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Massage Therapist?

Massage therapists soothe body aches, relieve tired muscles and encourage healing of sports and other muscular injuries. In addition to using massage techniques, these therapists also teach clients various stretches and postures to ease tension. Another important part of the job involves conducting medical interviews and reviewing medical records to assess clients' needs. Some massage therapists specialize in specific modalities, like Swedish or deep tissue massage. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a massage therapist.

Degree Required Postsecondary training program
Field of Study Massage therapy
Key Responsibilities Discuss symptoms, history and desired results with client; conduct evaluation of client's physical issues; manipulate soft tissues and muscles therapeutically; document client progress
Licensing Most states require massage therapists to be licensed or certified; voluntary professional certification is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 22%*
Median Salary (2015) $38,040*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Are My Job Duties as a Massage Therapist?

As a massage therapist, you can specialize one or more specific modalities, such as deep-tissue massage, acupressure, sports massage or Swedish massage. You may utilize creams and oils to facilitate your treatments. You'll take into account your clients' needs when determining the appropriate types of massage and techniques. Prior to treatment, you'll interview your clients to ascertain their medical histories and conditions, determine their treatment goals and assess the strength and conditions of their muscles and joints. In order to better serve your clients, you should keep documentation of all treatments.

You'll supply your clients with information as to the techniques you use for rehabilitative, stretching or relaxation purposes. In addition, you'll design personalized treatment regimens, which can include the use of ice, compresses or infrared lamps. If you are self-employed, you'll likely provide your own massage tables and chairs, as well as sheets and pillows for your clientele.

What Is the Career Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs were expected to increase more quickly than average for massage therapists from 2014-2024. In fact, a 22% increase was expected for that decade. This was due, in part, to an increase in massage clinics and spas, which employ massage therapists in great numbers. Another reason for growth in the field could be the fact that some businesses offer massage services for their employees as an additional company benefit, as well as the fact that the elderly population can utilize massage therapy to diminish health concerns and promote energy. As more states require licensing for massage therapists, more people were expected to respect and accept the profession.

What Educational Prerequisites Are Required?

Most states regulate the practice of massage therapy. If you'd like to become a professional massage therapist, it's best to first check the licensing laws of the state you live in. Typically, you'll need to complete an approved massage therapy program, which may be found at a community college or vocational school. These programs can require 500 hours or more, and may offer career diplomas, certificates or associate's degrees.

Your coursework might include topics such as anatomy and physiology, bodywork, business, mechanics of massage therapy, reflexology and clinical applications of massage. You may be required to complete an externship as well. Some programs focus on specific modalities. Upon graduation, if your state requires that you become licensed, you'll be required to successfully pass an examination, such as the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) or the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB). Continuing education courses may also be necessary to periodically renew licensure in some states.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're interested in related career options, you might look into working as an athletic trainer, exercise physiologist or physical therapist assistant. Athletic trainers are responsible for helping clients prevent muscle injuries and illness, as well as diagnosing and treating athletic injuries. This career requires a bachelor's degree and professional licensure. Exercise physiologists use their expertise to help clients improve cardiovascular function, body composition and overall flexibility. Most of these professionals hold a bachelor's degree. Physical therapist assistants help patients rehabilitate movement and alleviate pain from injury or illness under the supervision of physical therapists. An associate's degree is the standard academic requirement for this position, along with licensure.

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