How to Become a Massage Therapist

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Five Steps to Becoming a Licensed Massage Therapist

Step 1 Complete a massage therapy program

Prospective massage therapists should complete a certificate or diploma degree program from an accredited school approved by the state. During their studies, future massage therapists may take coursework in medical terminology, body mechanics, massage ethics, anatomy, and physiology.

Step 2 Complete practical requirements

Each state has a requirement for the number of hours of hands-on experience massage students must have before they can obtain their license. This can be achieved through an internship and/or working at a school’s massage clinic.

Step 3 Pass the licensing examination

After completing the massage therapy education program, a licensing exam is required. In some cases, massage school graduates take a specialized exam created by the state. In other cases, states require completion of the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). The MBLEx, which is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), is a 100-question test that must be completed in just under two hours. Areas that are covered on the exam include ethics, client assessments, kinesiology, and the physiological effects of massage.

Step 4 Apply for a state license

Prospective massage therapists must put in an application and provide proof that they have met the requirements for a license. Those who want to pursue a massage therapy career can find information about each state’s licensing requirements on the American Massage Therapy Association’s website.

Step 5 Complete a certification

A certification—which is earned by completing a certain number of clinical hours and an examination—is not necessarily required to get a massage therapy license, but it can make the process easier in some cases.

For example, states require massage therapists to complete the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) certification, which contains 100 multiple choice questions related to Oriental medicine foundations, biomedicine, and Chinese herbology.

Other massage therapy certifications can be earned in veterinary massage, palliative care, sports massage, spa management, and clinical rehabilitative message.

FAQ on Earning Your License in Massage Therapy

  • Some states require massage therapists to get individual liability insurance, even if their employer has coverage.

  • In order to keep a massage license current, professionals must complete a certain number of continuing education credits at schools approved by their state. Topics may include business, general massage, ethics, research, or marketing. Some continuing education classes are available online through the American Massage Therapy Association. In addition, the organization provides information on schools where students can take these courses in their local area.

  • Some massage therapists learn a specific type of massage in order to help them build their practice. There are several massage modalities to choose from, including the following:

    • Deep tissue massage
    • Acupressure
    • Stone therapy
    • Reflexology
    • Swedish massage
    • Shiatsu massage
    • Reiki massage
    • Therapeutic touch massage
    • Pregnancy massage
    • Sports massage
  • Massage therapists who want to open their own business are required to get licensed with their state.

Massage Therapy Salary & Job Growth

As of May 2017, massage therapists earn a median salary of $39,990 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who are among the lowest ten percent of earners receive $20,300, while the top ten percent earn $77,470.

Alabama Mean wage annual: $34,350
Currently Employed: 530
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19.20%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $86,980
Currently Employed: 640
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 18.70%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $46,100
Currently Employed: 2,040
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 28.70%
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $43,150
Currently Employed: 280
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 21.10%
California Mean wage annual: $41,500
Currently Employed: 17,390
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 24.10%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $43,420
Currently Employed: 5,160
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 38.30%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $43,560
Currently Employed: 1,450
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19.80%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $44,840
Currently Employed: 70
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 22.80%
Florida Mean wage annual: $46,790
Currently Employed: 8,930
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 28.90%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $36,440
Currently Employed: 2,620
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 22.40%
Hawaii Mean wage annual: $53,860
Currently Employed: 1,380
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 17.00%
Idaho Mean wage annual: $48,100
Currently Employed: 250
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Illinois Mean wage annual: $45,460
Currently Employed: 3,980
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16.30%
Indiana Mean wage annual: $52,650
Currently Employed: 1,380
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 22.00%
Iowa Mean wage annual: $39,030
Currently Employed: 820
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 23.80%
Kansas Mean wage annual: $28,990
Currently Employed: 620
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 17.90%
Kentucky Mean wage annual: $52,180
Currently Employed: 620
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 28.50%
Louisiana Mean wage annual: $31,750
Currently Employed: 440
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11.30%
Maine Mean wage annual: $41,900
Currently Employed: 270
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5.80%
Maryland Mean wage annual: $45,790
Currently Employed: 1,660
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 33.70%
Massachusetts Mean wage annual: $46,590
Currently Employed: 2,240
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 18.10%
Michigan Mean wage annual: $41,760
Currently Employed: 2,080
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 20.60%
Minnesota Mean wage annual: $47,220
Currently Employed: 1,960
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 24.00%
Mississippi Mean wage annual: $27,630
Currently Employed: 250
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 3.30%
Missouri Mean wage annual: $37,950
Currently Employed: 190
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 14.90%
Montana Mean wage annual: $38,250
Currently Employed: 140
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Nebraska Mean wage annual: $38,090
Currently Employed: 300
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19.30%
Nevada Mean wage annual: $30,530
Currently Employed: 1,670
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 20.50%
New Hampshire Mean wage annual: $42,380
Currently Employed: 470
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 14.70%
New Jersey Mean wage annual: $44,810
Currently Employed: 3,310
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 21.90%
New Mexico Mean wage annual: $43,140
Currently Employed: 340
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 20.80%
New York Mean wage annual: $59,130
Currently Employed: 4,250
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 29.10%
North Carolina Mean wage annual: $41,580
Currently Employed: 3,010
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 26.70%
North Dakota Mean wage annual: $40,160
Currently Employed: 180
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16.40%
Ohio Mean wage annual: $37,470
Currently Employed: 2,060
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 25.10%
Oklahoma Mean wage annual: $40,100
Currently Employed: 400
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 23.70%
Oregon Mean wage annual: $59,390
Currently Employed: 2,280
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 20.30%
Pennsylvania Mean wage annual: $42,210
Currently Employed: 3,700
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19.20%
Rhode Island Mean wage annual: $43,750
Currently Employed: 170
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10.40%
South Carolina Mean wage annual: $39,660
Currently Employed: 960
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 21.80%
South Dakota Mean wage annual: $34,830
Currently Employed: 110
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13.80%
Tennessee Mean wage annual: $40,970
Currently Employed: 1,310
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 27.70%
Texas Mean wage annual: $46,190
Currently Employed: 9,050
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 28.40%
Utah Mean wage annual: $35,720
Currently Employed: 1,350
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 40.90%
Vermont Mean wage annual: $51,820
Currently Employed: 310
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12.30%
Virginia Mean wage annual: $37,570
Currently Employed: 2,860
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 26.60%
Washington Mean wage annual: $61,840
Currently Employed: 4,520
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 41.30%
West Virginia Mean wage annual: $31,680
Currently Employed: 240
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5.70%
Wisconsin Mean wage annual: $38,230
Currently Employed: 1,970
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10.80%
Wyoming Mean wage annual: $39,390
Currently Employed: 120
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12.60%
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The American Massage Therapy Association estimates that there are currently between 300,000 and 350,000 massage therapists around the country. And this number is only going to increase in the coming years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there will be a 26 percent increase in employment between 2016 and 2026, which is significantly faster growth than the average of all other occupations. This demand for massage therapists can be attributed to the fact that more and more health providers are incorporating massage into their treatment plans. Also, many massage clinic franchises have recently opened in the United States, allowing people to get massage at more affordable rates than they would at spas.

Finding a Massage Therapy Program

There are several factors that influence what school massage students choose. Whether they are concerned about the length of the program, taking courses online versus on campus, or the amount of tuition, students need to compare programs before making a decision. The search tool below can help.

Professional Massage Therapy Associations & Groups

Building a massage business depends on professionals making connections. One way massage therapists can make connections with their peers, as well as possible clients, is by joining professional associations. Below are some of the groups that can help massage therapists succeed throughout their career.

  • Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals

    The ABMP provides services to help massage professionals increase their knowledge and skills. Members can take continuing education classes, receive timely industry information from the organization’s Massage and Bodywork magazine, and get discounts on supplies. In addition, the association provides comprehensive liability insurance, as well as property insurance.

  • American Massage Therapy Association

    This association serves the needs of massage therapists, as well as schools and students. Member benefits include access to continuing education programs, marketing tools, and liability and health insurance.

  • FSMTA

    Founded in 1939 as the Florida State Massage Therapy Association, this organization is now dedicated to helping massage therapists around the country. The group offers educational resources, a site to help promote members’ services, liability insurance, and networking events.

  • National Association of Nurse Massage Therapists

    This organization is for nurses who incorporate massage into their patient care.

  • World Massage Therapists Association

    Provides a leadership training program to help professionals advance in their careers. In addition, the group organizes an annual conference.

  • Alliance for Massage Therapy Education

    This association—which is made up of teachers, schools, administrators, and continuing education providers—promotes excellence in massage education. The organization offers leadership development resources, an annual business meeting, and publications with the latest industry information.

Resources for Massage Therapists

In order to provide the best services to their clients, massage therapists should always continue learning long after they’ve completed their degree programs. The following are examples of resources they can use to accomplish this.