Massage therapy is a growing, diverse field, one that provides opportunities for prospective students to pursue a variety of career paths across a wide range of settings, from private practices to hospitals, salons and spas to hotels. In 2014, US News and World Report named massage therapist as the 27th best career on its "The 100 Best Jobs" list. With growing demand for services, solid salary potential and a job with manageable work-life balance, it should come as no surprise that massage therapy is one of the top occupational fields in the country.
Massage therapy education and degree programs
The route to becoming a massage therapist typically follows two paths:
- A post-secondary certificate
- Diploma program
While associate degree programs are available, a majority of massage therapists do not have a degree at that level. According to survey data from ONET, 88 percent of massage therapists possess a post-secondary certificate, 9 percent have completed some college with no degree and 3 percent have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Although specific courses vary by school, college or technical institute, massage therapy programs are designed to equip students with the fundamental theoretical and practical knowledge of massage. A subset of example courses may include history of massage therapy, table mechanics and draping, anatomy and physiology and range of massage modalities such as Swedish massage, holistic massage, deep tissue massage and more.
Prospective students can pursue education from a variety of providers such as:
- Community colleges
- Technical institutes
- Vocational schools
As a general rule, students should follow educational guidelines from the American Massage Therapy Association, which recommends students complete at least 500 hours of in-class, supervised learning. It is also important to review state-level massage therapy rules and regulations as some states, such as Kentucky (600 hours), New Mexico (650 hours) and New York (1,000 hours) require more than the recommended 500 hours of study.
Secondly, students should review the accreditation of any institution. Some major, voluntary accrediting agencies include:
- The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology
- The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
- The National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology
- The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation
Massage therapy specializations
Depending on their professional goals, massage therapists can specialize in a number of specific areas, called modalities. Common massage modalities include the following:
- Clinical/medical massage therapy
- Fitness/sports massage therapy
- Spa & wellness massage therapy
- Chair massage
- Infant massage
- Myofascial release therapy
- Prenatal massage
- Stone therapy
- Thai bodywork
- Trigger point
Massage therapy certification and licensing
In November 2014, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) entered into a formal agreement on massage therapy and licensing. Previously, both FSMTB and NCBTMB offered formal licensing examinations to qualified massage therapists.
Under the new agreement, the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) will be the sole licensure examination for the industry, being sponsored by the FSMTB. The consolidation of licensing efforts will help establish licensing portability, allowing massage therapists to move freely without worrying about earning a license through multiple organizations.
In addition to meeting industry licensing requirements, massage therapists must also be aware of state-level regulations and examinations. Requirements vary by state; however, the FSMTB and NCBTMB are working with individual state massage boards to ensure a smooth transition under the new licensing agreement.
For example, the state of Alabama requires massage therapists to have 650 hours of study from a board approved massage therapy, complete 16 hours of continuing education credits every two years, pay application and licensing fees, as well as successfully pass the NCTMB certification examination.
Prospective students should review state licensing requirements available from the NCBTMB.
Professional massage therapy associations
- American Massage Therapy Association (amtamassage.org)
- Associated Bodywork and Message Professionals (abmp.com)
- National Association of Massage Therapists (namtonline.com)
- National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (ncbtmb.org)
Salaries for massage therapists
In 2013, the national average salary for massage therapists was $40,400, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). Overall 2013 salaries ranged from up to approximately $18,000 to upwards of $71,000. Below is a breakout of national salaries by earning percentiles:
- 10%: $18,280
- 25%: 24,380
- Median: $35,920
- 75%: $51,820
- 90%: $71,020
Some of the top paying massage industries in 2013 included ambulatory health care services ($55,700), specialty hospitals ($62,670) and physician offices ($60,610). Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals the top paying states included Alaska, New York and Oregon. Here is a list of the top five highest average salaries by state in 2013:
- Alaska: $88,500
- New York: $53,070
- Oregon: $52,850
- Washington: $51,680
- Delaware: $50,280
Job growth for massage therapists
Projected national growth of 23 percent is expected industry-wide between 2012 and 2022, according to BLS data. That growth means approximately 30,000 new jobs could be created during that time.
The states with the biggest number of employed massage therapists in 2013 included California (9,520), Florida (5,910), Texas (4,950), Washington (4,040) and New York (3,760). Twelve states are projected to experience employment growth at or faster than the national rate, including Washington (47.8%) and Utah (37.6%). Here are projections for the top five fastest growing states for massage therapists:
- Washington: 47.8%
- Utah: 37.6%
- Virginia: 35.2%
- Kentucky: 30.9%
- Illinois: 30.5%
With growing employment prospects, multiple career path specializations and solid potential career earnings, massage therapy should be an attractive educational option for today's prospective student.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, Massage Therapists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, Massage Therapists, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319011.htm
- ONET, Massage Therapists, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/31-9011.00
- NCBTMB, FSMTB and NCBTMB Reach Agreement, http://www.ncbtmb.org/news/fsmtb-and-ncbtmb-reach-agreement
- US News and World Report, Best 100 Jobs, http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/the-100-best-jobs?page=3
- Projections Central, projectionscentral.com