Massage Therapist Job Description: What You'll Do

Explore what a career in massage therapy could look like for you.

massage therapist at work

In our fast-paced society, relaxation treatments and techniques are in demand more than ever. If you've ever had a massage, you know exactly how rejuvenating the experience can be. Beyond being a relaxing experience, however, massage therapy is now widely recognized as a reputable healing method in many hospitals, clinics and health centers.

Today, massage therapists play an important role in caring for a variety of medical issues, from rehabilitation of injuries to clinical depression. Their role is to listen to their clients' needs and provide a massage experience to treat these issues. 

What does a massage therapist do?

Massage therapists can work in any number of environments, from health clinics to private practices. On the job, most massage therapists generally have a variety of duties:

  • Creating a soothing environment for the client
  • Discussing the client's needs (pain relief, stress relief, etc.)
  • Providing the massage necessary to alleviate the client's issues
  • Checking in regularly with the client throughout, to ensure comfort
  • Respecting each individual's privacy and comfort levels
  • Keeping track of regular clients' progress

You can also choose to practice specialty massage, like Asian bodywork or medical massage, which are both popular. Asian bodywork massage focuses on using hand and finger pressure to influence the body's energy channels, while medical massage is based on specific, outcome-driven treatments.  

What education or certification will I need to become a massage therapist?

Before you can work as a massage therapist, you'll need to enroll and complete a massage therapy education program. You'll be required to complete somewhere between 330 and 1,000 hours of training, which adds up to anywhere from a matter of weeks to two years.

The time you spend in training will prepare you to take your massage therapist licensure exam. Not every state has the same licensing requirements for massage therapists, so check your state's regulatory board to find out what certification test you'll need to pass.

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) offers two types of certification exams. You'll take one or the other depending on your state. The tests are:

  • National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCEMTB)
  • National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM)

Upon passing the exam, you'll be ready to work as a licensed massage therapist.

What career paths can I take as a massage therapist?

With your massage license, you'll be qualified to work in a number of settings—especially as the demand for massage therapists grows. Consider a few of these potential workplaces:

  • Spas: A spa environment is one of the first places people think of when they're craving a soothing massage experience. Massage therapists "stage" their work space so it's comfortable and inviting for the client. The goal of the massage therapist is to make the client feel transported to full relaxation mode. 
  • Rehab clinics and hospitals: In a rehabilitation setting, your massage methods will focus on soothing and healing injuries. For instance, if someone is recovering from a knee injury, you would use massage techniques meant to relieve pain and restore mobility.
  • Cruise ships, hotels and resorts: What better time to relax and refresh with a massage than on vacation? For many people, vacation is a time to splurge on luxuries, so massage therapist will often enjoy a steady stream of clients. However, it will be rare to build long-lasting relationships since clients are only in the location temporarily.
  • Health and wellness centers: As the shift toward natural healing methods continues, massage therapists can fill a needed role. Patients who don't want to take medication may come to a health or wellness center for massage treatments to help aid anything from muscle injuries to headaches to anxiety.
  • Self-employed private practice: Another great option is to start your own massage therapy practice. This route requires an entrepreneurial spirit and hard work to get things off the ground, but the benefits include choosing your own hours and getting to keep all the profits.

Learn about pay and salary projections for massage therapists.

<Back to Massage Therapy Overview      Next: Massage Therapist Salaries>