What Massage Therapists Do
Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body.
Massage therapists work in an array of settings, such as spas, franchised clinics, physicians’ offices, hotels, and fitness centers. Some massage therapists also travel to clients’ homes or offices to give a massage.
How to Become a Massage Therapist
Massage therapists typically complete a postsecondary education program of 500 or more hours of study and experience, although standards and requirements vary by state or other jurisdictions. Most states regulate massage therapy and require massage therapists to have a license or certification.
The median annual wage for massage therapists was $42,820 in May 2019.
Employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand will likely increase as more healthcare providers understand the benefits of massage and these services become part of treatment plans.
Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. With their touch, therapists relieve pain, help heal injuries, improve circulation, relieve stress, increase relaxation, and aid in the general wellness of clients.
Massage therapists typically do the following:
- Talk with clients about their symptoms, medical history, and desired results
- Evaluate clients to locate painful or tense areas of the body
- Manipulate muscles and other soft tissues of the body
- Provide clients with guidance on stretching, strengthening, overall relaxation, and how to improve their posture
- Document clients’ conditions and progress
Massage therapists use touch to treat clients’ injuries and to promote the clients’ general wellness. They use their hands, fingers, forearms, elbows, and sometimes feet to knead muscles and soft tissues of the body.
Massage therapists may use lotions and oils, and massage tables or chairs, when treating a client. A massage can be as short as 5–10 minutes or could last more than an hour.
Massage therapists talk with clients about what they hope to achieve through massage. They may suggest personalized treatment plans for their clients, including information about additional relaxation techniques to practice between sessions.
Massage therapists can specialize in many different types of massage or modalities. Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, and sports massage are just a few of the many modalities of massage therapy. Most massage therapists specialize in several modalities, which require different techniques.
The type of massage given typically depends on the client’s needs and physical condition. For example, massage therapists may use a special technique for elderly clients that they would not use for athletes. Some forms of massage are given solely to one type of client; for example, prenatal massage is given only to pregnant women.
Massage therapists held about 166,700 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of massage therapists were as follows:
|Personal care services||33|
|Offices of all other health practitioners||11|
|Offices of chiropractors||8|
Some massage therapists travel to clients’ homes or offices to give a massage. Others work out of their own homes. Many massage therapists, especially those who are self-employed, provide their own table or chair, sheets, pillows, and body lotions or oils.
A massage therapist’s working conditions depend heavily on the venue in which the massage is performed and on what the client wants. For example, when giving a massage to help clients relax, massage therapists generally work in dimly lit settings and use candles, incense, and calm, soothing music. In contrast, a massage meant to help rehabilitate a client with an injury may be conducted in a well-lit setting with several other people receiving treatment in the same room.
Injuries and Illnesses
Because giving a massage is physically demanding, massage therapists can injure themselves if they do not use the proper techniques. Repetitive-motion problems and fatigue from standing for extended periods are most common.
Therapists can limit these risks by using good body mechanics, spacing sessions properly, exercising, and, in many cases, receiving a massage themselves regularly.
Many massage therapists work part time. Because therapists work by appointment in most cases, their schedules and the number of hours worked each week vary considerably. Moreover, because of the strength and endurance needed to give a massage, many therapists cannot perform massage services 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.
In addition to giving massages, therapists, especially those who are self-employed, may spend time recording clients’ notes, marketing, booking clients, washing linens, and conducting other general business tasks.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of massage therapists.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Athletic trainers specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating muscle and bone injuries and illnesses.
Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise programs that help injured or sick patients recover.
Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides
Physical therapist assistants and aides are supervised by physical therapists to help patients regain movement and manage pain after injuries and illnesses.
|See How to Become One||$48,990|
Physical therapists help injured or ill people improve movement and manage pain.
|Doctoral or professional degree||$89,440|
For more information about careers in massage therapy, visit
For more information about national testing and national certification, visit
For more information about accredited massage therapy programs, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Massage Therapists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm (visited ).