Massage Therapist: Job Info & Career Requirements

Learn about the duties and work environment of a massage therapist. Explore the education and skills necessary in addition to salary and employment outlook to determine if this is the right career decision.

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Career Definition

Massage therapy is a growing career field which easily adapts to the practitioner's lifestyle and availability. Therapeutic treatments are administered to relieve physical injury and discomfort as well as to cultivate relaxation and relieve stress. There are a several possible types of massage, called modalities. According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the most popular massage modalities are Swedish, Shiatsu, deep-tissue, neuromuscular and sports massage; each provides unique benefits to the massage client. Massage therapists enjoy flexible hours, the freedom to work in a self-employed capacity and the opportunity to treat both new and long-term clients in settings including spas and salons, health clubs, resorts, private offices and clients' homes.

How to Become a Massage Therapist

Education Required

Education and certification requirements vary greatly state by state. Currently, 39 states regulate the field of massage therapy, according to AMTA, with most requiring 500 hours of massage training in order to qualify for a national or multi-state certification exam; some states, like New York, require 1,000 hours. After completing a training program, massage therapists can take the national certification exam administered by National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). After passing the exam, massage therapists can claim the 'Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork' (NCTMB) credential in all professional materials; certification must be renewed every four years. Many states require this certification before allowing massage therapists to practice; some states accept successful completion of the more recent Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB).

Skills Required

While no prior education is required, some knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology and body mechanics is helpful before pursuing a massage therapy career. Because of the sensitive nature of massage therapy practice, in which clients must often be partially or completely disrobed, ethics and sensitivity to the client's needs and comfort level are essential. Stamina and knowledge of proper technique are also crucial, due to the physical demands of giving massage therapy. Basic business knowledge is also important for those looking to establish their own massage practice.

Career Outlook

As the general public becomes more knowledgeable about the benefits of massage therapy and alternative treatments, the demand for massage therapists is expected to increase at a much faster than average rate (23%) from 2012-2022, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Earning potential varies greatly by work setting. For instance, a private massage therapist with a large and loyal client base or one employed by a 5-star resort will have higher earning potential than a massage therapist who practices in a health club or day spa. In 2013, more than 80% of massage therapists were female, according to the AMTA. The BLS reports that, in 2012, nearly 46% of massage therapists were self-employed, making this an ideal career path for those with ample self-motivation and a need for work flexibility.

Alternative Careers

Physical Therapist Assistants

If using massage techniques to help the sick and injured recover from illnesses or accidents sounds appealing, consider becoming a physical therapist assistant. Under the supervision of a physical therapist, these assistants execute treatment plans that include massages, exercise routines, stretching and other movement-based remedies. They also monitor and record progress, explain treatment to patients and educate them in the use of crutches, walkers and other equipment.

To work in this field, an associate degree in physical therapy is necessary. All states but Hawaii also require licensure of physical therapist assistants, and this involves the completion of an accredited education program and taking the National Physical Therapy Exam. Job opportunities for these assistants should be very good between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS, with growth of 41%. The BLS also determined that the median yearly income of physical therapist assistants was $52,160 in 2012.

Athletic Trainer

For those interested in helping athletes heal and prevent injuries through massage and other techniques, a career in athletic training may be a good fit. Athletic trainers provide first aid and injury analysis, in addition to designing rehabilitative plans that include specific exercise to target areas of the body. They also prescribe preventative actions and tools to protect athletes from future injuries.

Earning a bachelor's degree in athletic training is generally required to work in this profession, and licensing is required in most states. College coursework for this field includes biology, anatomy and physiology. Based on predictions from the BLS, employment of athletic trainers is expected to increase by 21% during the 2012-2022 decade. These trainers should receive a median wage of $42,090, as seen in BLS figures from May of 2012.

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