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Massage Therapy: Relaxing and Rewarding Careers

By Candice Mancini
Published on December 4, 2009.

Job Duties

Massage therapists provide physical and mental relief to others. They release stress, improve circulation, relieve pain, and provide an overall feeling of well being. While these are at the heart of any massage therapist's job, many specialize in one or several types of massage, including:

  • Swedish massage
  • Sports massage
  • Deep tissue massage
  • Hot stone massage
  • Reflexology
  • Acupressure

In all, there are over 80 different types of massage, called modalities.

Job Skills

Massage therapists must be friendly, empathetic, and approachable. They must also possess strong communication skills, and have the natural ability to put others at ease. In addition, massage therapists must be strong and physically healthy, as they spend a lot of time on their feet and are constantly engaging their muscles.


Massage therapists' income varies widely, largely because so many work part-time hours. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median 2008 salary for massage therapists was $34,900 a year, with the lowest 10 percent earning $16,670 and the highest 10 percent earning $69,620.

Education and Training

Education requirements and training standards for massage therapists vary by state and locality. Some states, though not all, regulate massage therapy, and might require students to graduate from a state-approved program, take continuing education classes while they are practicing, and/or pass the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB). There are approximately 1,500 massage therapy programs in the country, with each program focusing on requirements of the state in which they exist. Massage therapy courses include:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Organs & Tissues
  • Kinesiology
  • Body mechanics
  • Business
  • Ethics

Of course, a large part of massage programs involves practicing massage techniques. Schools vary in their minimum hourly requirements for practical experience, which often is regulated by states. Massage therapists who live in states that do not require passing the NCETMB can elect to take it, which can help them secure better jobs. A multi-state examination program has recently been organized by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, which offers licensure that is accepted by numerous states.


Massage therapists often work part-time, flexible hours, can often set their own schedules, and work in many settings, including:

  • Personal care services
  • Offices of other health practitioners, such as physicians and chiropractors
  • Airports and other travel accommodations
  • Amusement and recreation industries
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Dentist offices

Many massage therapists, especially those with formal training and extensive experience, work for themselves, often out of their own homes. Other opportunities for experienced massage therapists exist in massage schools and junior colleges, where they can teach massage techniques to students.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates large growth in employment for massage therapists, a 20 percent increase between 2006 and 2016. If the BLS proves accurate, there will be 142,000 massage therapists by 2016 (up from 118,000 in 2006). An increased interest in alternative and holistic medicine is thought to be the biggest reason for the increased demand for massage therapists. For those who have completed formal training programs and have passed the national certification exam, the BLS predicts excellent job prospects.

About the Author
Candice Mancini is a freelance writer and a teacher of AP English literature and college writing. She has an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in English and history.
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