How to Become a Massage Therapist:
The Definitive Guide

Do your friends go to you when they have a kink in their neck?

Do you enjoy relaxing people?

Are you always making sure that you stretch before exercise?

With the help of massage therapy, people are finding that life is much better limber.

As a Massage Therapist, you can learn how to manipulate your client’s bodies to relieve aches and pains, as well as help with their posture and to promote health.

What is a Massage Therapist?

We all work too hard, and most of us need to take a break to get a massage.

As a Massage Therapist, you can give clients the relaxation and calm that they so desperately need.

Working with your client to find out what ails them, you can then practice rubbing, kneading, massaging, and manipulating their tissue and muscles.

Doing this can relieve some of the pain that they feel physically, and even mentally or emotionally.

You can expect to work in places like spas, rehab centers, hospitals, cruise ships, resorts, the list goes on.


You could consider yourself a healthcare worker when you’re working as a Massage Therapist.

With this career, you’ll work in many different environments from private spas to doctor’s offices.

That means you’ll meet many different people and have to do several different tasks throughout the day.

Some of the things that you can expect to do as a Massage Therapist are:

  • Create a soothing environment
  • Discuss client needs
  • Provide the massage necessary to alleviate the issues with the client
  • Keep track of client progress
  • Provide wellness information
  • Teach stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Clean and sterilize workspace


When a person fresh out of their program starts working as a Massage Therapist, it is likely that they will make around $45,000 a year.

With experience, certifications, specializations and other factors, within a few years, Massage Therapists can expect to make around $51,000 which is the average salary in the United States

Massage Therapists who work in larger cities like San Francisco, CA or Dallas, Tx can expect to make more than people who live in smaller cities like Ann Arbor, MI.

Typically, the top out rate for salary is around $60,000 a year, but of course, it is possible to make more depending on your education and location.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $49,260


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$52,020
New Hampshire$50,540
New Jersey$45,650
New Mexico$46,130
New York$52,660
North Carolina$46,810
North Dakota$61,280
Rhode Island$29,210
South Carolina$35,030
South Dakota$37,620
West Virginia$45,730
Puerto Rico$19,890

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $100,080.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $100,080
Washington - $66,040
Oregon - $65,580
Connecticut - $62,200
Maryland - $62,030
*Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Massage Therapist

Step 1Enter a Program

The first thing that you are going to want to do on your step toward becoming a Massage Therapist is finding an accredited program or massage therapy school.

You will want to make sure that whichever program you choose, that it is approved by your state’s licensing board.

This way you don’t go through your entire program to find out you can’t get a job anywhere.

Most programs take around 500 hours and include both clinical work and classroom work.

Some of the classes that you should consider taking include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Kinesiology fundamentals
  • Pathology
  • Professional Ethics

If you plan on becoming an independent Massage Therapist, you may also want to think about taking classes that pertain to business, such as:

  • Business finance
  • Marketing
  • Business management

Step 2Take Your Exam

After you have completed your program and passed with flying colors, it’s now time to take your state exam to ensure you know everything about massage therapy.

Some of the exams you may be eligible to take are:

  • Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination
  • Board Certification Exam in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork

When you take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination you can expect to have around two hours to answer 100 questions.

The exam will cover subjects like anatomy and physiology, benefits and psychological effects and techniques, treatment planning, guidelines for professional practices and ethics, legal, and regulations changes.

This exam costs $195 dollars to take.

The Board Certification Exam in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork is an exam that has 125 questions and must be taken in two hours as well.

You will likely see subjects like kinesiology, massage communication and assessment, business and legal practices as well as anatomy and physiology on this exam.

The cost of this exam is $250.

Step 3Become Licensed

Once you have taken the exam and gotten a passing score, you’re reading to become a licensed Massage Therapist!

Depending on which state you live in, you may have to obtain a specified amount of liability insurance before you can become licensed.

You will also want to check with your state to make sure you are doing everything legally and up to code.

Step 4Start Working

After you become licensed, you can start getting down to business.

Whether you work in a facility or at home, you can have a very different experience than another Massage Therapist.

If you work from home, you may need to recruit new clients.

If you work in a facility, you’ll likely have a steady client stream.

Working as an independent Massage Therapist may require other licensing or certifications, so check into that with your state.

Step 5Continue Education

You can never have too much knowledge.

Once you gain some experience, it’s time to renew your licensure and update your education.

New and interesting things happen all the time, and that means if you have been a massage therapist for a couple of years, you may be using some old techniques.

Check with your state and your certification or licensing board to make sure you stay certified.


Before you decide to enroll in a massage therapy program, make sure that you check out your state’s licensure requirements.

You’ll also want to decide if you want to go to school online, or on campus.

Every massage therapy program is different, depending on the institution and the state that you live in.

Some programs require that you dedicate 500 hours to massage therapy education, while others can require more than 1,000 hours.

It’s also possible to become specialized in a specific area of massage therapy, such as Sports Medicine.

This can require a different set of education requirements, but it can lead you to an incredible career.

Some of the courses that you can expect to take in a massage therapy program include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Theory of massage
  • Business and license procedures
  • Muscle energy techniques
  • Swedish massage
  • Clinical and sports massage
  • Eastern and Western theory

The courses you’ll take can depend on which school your program is through.

When you are looking for a massage therapy program, you will also want to make sure that it is accredited with the state that you want to work.

There are five accreditation organizations to look for:

  • Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
  • National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences

As long as your school is accredited by at least one of these organizations, your program will allow you to become certified.

In order to gain a certification or diploma from the massage therapy program, you will need to pass an exam.

You will also be required to perform a certain number of massages under the supervision of a licensed Massage Therapist.

After you pass the exam, you’ll be able to work toward your certification and licensing.

Video About The Career


When you have finished your big exam and passed with flying colors, it’s time to become licensed.

The way to become licensed can vary from state to state, but two popular licensure exams are the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam and the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

In order to apply for the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam, you’ll be required to pay the fee and provide your education records.

You’ll also need to have done recorded massages on over a certain amount of people.

This exam will cost around $195 dollars to take.

Once you pass the exam, you will be a licensed Massage Therapist.

The other licensing exam is the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

This certification is different than the first because it requires you to know the CAM assessment, application, and diagnostic tools using the ayurvedic and acupuncture treatment.

In order to take this exam, you’ll need to have 500 hours of classroom time, plus 200 hours of massage time, as well as 100 hours of training in anatomy and physiology.

All of the NCETMB tests are done at testing centers throughout the United States.

In order to get your correct testing site, contact your local board.

The test can take around two hours and has 125 questions.

It costs $250 to take this exam.

You have six tries in order to pass both exams, and if you don’t you have to wait five years in order to try again.

It is also required to become recertified and relicensed between every two and five years.

There are other certifications and licenses available, but they can vary depending on which state you live in and which field you decide to work in.

Typically, exams are done using computer-based testing, and you’ll receive your score online.

Certification Example:

Massage Therapist Certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 0-1 Year

Popular Programs

Job Outlook

The job outlook for a Massage Therapist will be incredible for the next ten years.

More states have adopted licensing requirements and the practice of massage has been proven to alleviate stress and other symptoms.

This allows more facilities, including doctor’s offices and clinics to provide massage as a therapy.

Sports teams have also adopted the idea that massage can improve physical health, so this career is lucrative.

You’ll notice massage parlors popping up all over the place as well.

In our busy lives, more and more people are using massage as a way to unwind, relax, or overcome an injury.

Employment Growth Projection: 32%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 46,500 jobs.

Massage Therapist: Interest Over Time

Should You Become a Massage Therapist?

Overall Satisfaction: High

Overall Satisfaction

People that have been employed as massage therapists say that the job is very satisfying.

Most Massage Therapists make their own hours, and many works only part-time as the job can be demanding physically.

Those that work for facilities may find it less satisfactory when having to deal with work schedules and client competition.

The work can be rather relaxing, especially when using low lighting and stress relief techniques.

Average Salary: High

Average Salary

In the United States, the average Massage Therapist can make around $51,000 per year.

When first starting out, most Massage Therapists can expect to bring in around $45,000 a year.

With the help of certifications, specializations, experience, and education a Massage Therapist can make their way up on the rungs of salary.

In the end, a Massage Therapist can possibly make up to $59,000.

Variables that may be involved in the amount of money you make include whether you work with a company or as a freelancer, the population of where you live or work, and how many years you’ve been working.

Job Growth Outlook: High

Job Growth Outlook

Within the next ten years, the career outlook for Massage Therapists is projected to rise 22 percent.

This is much higher than many other careers, including ones that are not in the same field.

More states are adopting the licensing requirements and standards that many Massage Therapists must deal with.

This means that more massage therapy facilities will open, and more jobs will need to be filled.

Also, healthcare providers and insurance companies are realizing that there are benefits to massage therapy and are beginning to offer massage services.

Education Duration: 0-1 Year

Education Duration

With massage therapy, education is a little different.

Education programs require at least 500 hours of study, this can be done on your own time or through the program’s classroom hours.

Some programs may require 1,000 hours, or even more.

Each state may vary widely on their requirements for programs, so check with the state you plan to work in.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

In order to be a successful Massage Therapist, you’ll need a certain set of skills.

If you consider yourself a helper, a person who likes to reward others, or someone who has a calming atmosphere you may make a wonderful Massage Therapist.

Some other traits it’s good to have include:

  • Incredible communication skills- you’ll be working with several clients, and you’ll need to know which areas they need/want worked on.
  • Empathy- having an understanding and care for other people will get you far in this career.
  • Physical strength- your muscles will be used while you are trying to relax others, so you’ll need lots of physical strength.
  • Physical stamina- since you’ll be using your muscles so much, you want to make sure you can maintain your health.
  • Decision-making skills- each client will have different needs, so you’ll have to decide which technique works best for whom.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the average salary for a Massage Therapist?

The average salary for a Massage Therapist in the United States is around $51,000 a year.

People who decide to have their own business will likely make less money, to begin with, as their client base starts to grow they can make more money.

People with certification or specializations can make more money as well.

Those that have worked as a Massage Therapist for many years can expect to make around $60,000 a year.

Q. How long does it take to become a Massage Therapist?

The length of time it takes to become a Massage Therapist depends on one thing, you.

Massage therapy programs can require around 500 hours and even up to 1,000 hours of classroom training and clinical training like massage-specific training.

Depending on how often you give massages under licensed supervision, and how many hours you spend in the classroom, you can take your exam in less than a year.

After you graduate from your program, you will need to become licensed.

You’ll have to wait at least six months after graduation in order to take your exam.

Once you pass your exam, you’ll be a licensed massage therapist!

This can take from about one year and up.

Q. What does a Massage Therapist do?

A Massage Therapist applies pressure to muscles and tendons in order to relieve pain and stress from clients.

There are different styles of massage and different therapy techniques that a Massage Therapist can use to appease their clients.

An independent Massage Therapist will be required to provide a private area to apply massage, and all Massage Therapists are required to know sanitation rules and legal stipulations.

Q. What is the demand for Massage Therapists?

There is a higher demand than ever before for Massage Therapists.

This is because many health care providers are have come to realize and understand the health benefits of massage.

Also, there are many massage parlors popping up everywhere, including sports massage and therapeutic massage.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Massage Therapist?

The cost of to become a Massage Therapist really depends on the program that you enroll in.

Some programs give you an Associates’s degree, which can cost around $5,000.

Other programs can cost around $1,000.

The licensing exam will cost around $200-$300.

You’ll also be required to renew licensure every 2-5 years.

Massage Therapist Information by State

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