US News Best Careers for 2011: Massage Therapist


“Best Careers 2011: Massage Therapist”

As one of the 50 Best Careers of 2011, this should have strong growth over the next decade

By Alexis Grant

The rundown:

Massage therapists may be good with their hands, but most also have a knack for business. You’re likely to work for yourself, and your success depends largely on how many clients you bring in, so you’ll need to market yourself well and develop a rapport with repeat customers. Many massage therapists work part time in several locations, including spas, hospitals, cruise ships, and sports centers.

Massage therapy uses touch to treat injuries, sooth tired or overworked muscles, reduce stress, and promote general health. Treatment comes in many varieties, including Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, reflexology, and sports massage, and most therapists specialize in one or more. In most states, massage therapists need a license to practice.

The outlook:

As massage therapy becomes more popular, employment is expected to grow faster than average—19 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the Labor Department. Although this industry certainly hasn’t been spared the wrath of the recession, more spas and massage clinic franchises are popping up to meet increased demand for massage services, creating new openings for therapists. Massage therapists held about 122,400 jobs in 2008, and more than half were self-employed. Many more practice massage therapy as a secondary source of income.

Of those who are self-employed, most own their own businesses or work as independent contractors. Others find employment in personal care services establishments, the offices of physicians and chiropractors, fitness and recreational sports centers, and hotels. Employment is concentrated in metropolitan areas, as well as resort and destination locales.


Massage therapists fare well considering you need only a license, not a degree. The median annual salary in 2009 was $35,230, and the median hourly wage was $16.94. Self-employed massage therapists with an established client base have the highest earnings.

Upward mobility:

Opportunities for advancement within this field are limited. Most massage therapists strive to gain more experience and more clients so they can increase their rates. Some become managers of their office or teach the trade, while others go into business for themselves.

Activity level:

High. Massage is physically demanding, so you may find yourself injured if you don’t use proper technique. Therapists sometimes suffer from repetitive-motion problems, as well as fatigue from standing for extended lengths of time.

Stress level:

Low, though some therapists worry about attracting enough clients to earn a living. The environments where massage therapists work are designed to sooth, with low lighting, candles, and calming music.

Education and preparation:

Most states require massage therapists to complete a formal education program and pass an examination to earn a license, but standards and requirements vary widely. Programs at colleges or universities usually require about 500 hours of study to complete.

To make clients feel comfortable and turn them into repeat customers, therapists benefit from strong communication skills and a friendly personality.

Real advice from real people about landing a job as a massage therapist:

Go to a quality massage school—You can find one at the American Massage Therapy Association’s website. Think about what type of massage you’d like to specialize in and which work environment—spa, hospital, or sports center, for example—you prefer. Find a massage therapist near you and ask questions about the job. Learn to market yourself so you can bring in clients. “Understand that it is a business, and you will have to build that business.” —Ron Precht, communications manager at the American Massage Therapy Association