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Is Massage Therapy a Good Career?
A massage therapy career is an appealing option for many people. Massage school is often more affordable and much quicker to complete than a traditional college degree. What’s more, after earning a massage license, many massage therapists find employment quickly—usually within a matter of weeks—and report high job satisfaction.
These are just a few of the benefits that draw people to the field, but it’s important to weigh all the pros and cons in order to decide whether massage therapy is right for you. Read on to learn more about this career path, including the massage therapist salary, job outlook, burnout rate, working conditions, and overall job satisfaction.
How Happy Are Massage Therapists?
A recent survey of nearly 1,200 licensed massage therapists points to strong job satisfaction rates: 88% of respondents reported feeling either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their jobs. Only 7% selected “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied,” and 5% felt “dissatisfied.” A tiny proportion—just 1%—were “very dissatisfied.”
But how does the massage therapist satisfaction rate measure up to other occupations? It turns out that massage therapists are significantly more happy with their jobs than many American workers. In comparison, only 51% of U.S. workers reported feeling overall satisfaction with their careers in a recent survey by The Conference Board.
What Are Working Conditions Like for Massage Therapists?
Massage therapist working conditions vary by place of employment. Some massage therapists are self-employed and work out of their homes or private offices. They’re autonomous, set their own hours, and buy their own equipment and supplies. Other massage therapists find jobs in spas, health clubs, massage studios, or the offices of physical therapists or chiropractors.
Each setting has a different look and feel. A spa may offer a calm, intimate setting with dim lights and soothing music, whereas a medical clinic or sports facility might use bright overhead lighting and provide massage therapy in the same room as other patients receiving care.
What Are the Perks of a Massage Therapy Career?
With such job satisfaction rates, it may come as no surprise that massage therapy careers offer many perks that go beyond a paycheck.
Most massage therapists are motivated to help others, and one of the top rewards of the job is knowing you’re making a difference in people’s lives. After all, massage therapy isn’t just a way to get pampered, it can also reduce stress, relieve muscle tension and pain, and help treat a variety of injuries and health conditions. When asked about the impact of their work, nearly 99% of massage therapists said their work has a positive impact on clients, and helping them to feel better is the #1 factor influencing job satisfaction.
The demand for massage therapists is growing fast. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), massage therapy jobs are expected to increase at a faster than average job growth rate in comparison to all other occupations.
What’s more, although more and more jobs in general are being outsourced or eliminated through automation, it’s unlikely that robots will be able to replace the hands-on work of massage therapists in the foreseeable future. Investing your time and effort in a massage therapy career could offer a solid return for years to come.
Flexible work schedule
If a flexible schedule is important to you, a job as a massage therapist can be a great option. You won’t be confined to a traditional 9–5 work day, and if you choose to be self-employed, you’ll have a high degree of independence.
In addition, part-time schedules are commonplace for massage therapists, which can be beneficial if you have another part-time job or other obligations like raising a family.
In fact, half of all massage therapists worked part-time in 2018.
As massage therapists build their client base over time, they can secure more steady work and increase their income, whether they’re self-employed or work for an employer. Massage therapists can also expand their clientele and differentiate their services by specializing in a specific type of massage, such as infant, medical, reflexology, sports therapy, Shiatsu, or Thai bodywork.
Another avenue for career growth is to move into a management role in settings like a massage studio, medical clinic, or resort.
Being your own boss
Many people dream of being their own boss, and massage therapy can allow you to achieve this goal if you choose to be self-employed and start your own practice. Being your own boss can give you more freedom, greater control over your day, and increased satisfaction in your career.
Staying physically active
While office workers are often sedentary for long periods of time, which can lead to a host of negative health effects, massage therapists get to move their bodies and be active on an on-going basis. Physical strength and endurance are part of the job.
What Are the Challenges?
While there are plenty of positive aspects of a massage therapy career, there are some drawbacks as well, beginning with inconsistent income.
As cited in the career satisfaction survey, the #1 factor that negatively impacts massage therapists is a lack of consistent income. Because the schedules of massage therapists are appointment-based, their work hours can vary significantly from day-to-day and week-to-week. In addition, performing massage therapy is physically demanding, and working 40 hours a week is not always possible or desired.
Part-time schedules offer the benefit of flexibility, but they also have the downside of inconsistent pay in many cases. For self-employed massage therapists, other non-billable tasks require their time and attention as well, such as marketing, documentation, and washing linens.
Another challenge of the job is physical burnout caused by standing on your feet and doing repetitive motions with your hands, arms, and shoulders for extended periods of time. It’s not uncommon to experience painful physical symptoms as a result of working as a massage therapist. About 39% of respondents have had overuse injuries such as carpal tunnel, tendonitis, or arthritis.
Massage therapists can help prevent injuries by using appropriate techniques and precautions, such as making sure the massage table is the correct height and using the weight of their body to push down, rather than overusing their wrists and fingers.
Clients behaving inappropriately
Unfortunately, many massage therapists have experienced inappropriate behavior on the job: 64% of women and 56% of men have experienced unsolicited sexual advances from clients. When working alone, sexual misconduct is a real concern, even in a conventional spa setting. However, this can be even more of a risk if you provide massage therapy in your own or a client’s home.
Setting boundaries with clients and speaking up to address inappropriate comments and actions can help prevent these issues from escalating further, but the problem is also part of a broader stigma that affects the massage therapy industry as a whole.
Median Salary: $43,620
Top 10%: $79,150
Projected job growth: 20.6%
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Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2020 median salary; projected job growth through 2029. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Is It Easy to Get a Job?
The massage therapist job outlook is bright, and students who graduate from massage therapy school are often able to find a job quickly. In the survey, 57% of respondents “strongly agreed” that they were able to get a job easily after becoming a licensed massage therapist, and another 29% “agreed.”
The survey also indicates that massage therapy graduates don’t have to worry about long periods of unemployment and job searching: 84% were offered a job in 1 month or less after getting licensed. Another 5% said it took just 2 months to land a job.
Unlike some types of college graduates who have few marketable skills, massage therapists are often well prepared for a specific career path that’s in high demand.
How to Become a Massage Therapist
Becoming a massage therapist is a relatively straightforward process. To be admitted to a training program, you’ll likely first need your high school diploma or GED.
Once you’re enrolled in a program, you can expect to dedicate 500 hours or more to your studies. However, specific requirements vary by state, and some programs may require 1,000 hours or more. Full-time and part-time massage therapy programs are available, which can make it easier to fit education into your busy life.
In massage therapy school, students gain experience with hands-on techniques and learn about anatomy, kinesiology, pathology, and business and licensing procedures. Some programs even offer job placement services.
Most states require massage therapists to get a license or certification. This typically means students must graduate from an approved program and pass a test such as the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx).
Other licensure requirements may involve passing a background check, purchasing liability insurance, and becoming certified in CPR. Some states also require massage therapists to earn continuing education credits in order to stay licensed.
Upon graduation, there are a variety of massage therapy career opportunities available. Licensed massage therapists can find jobs in a number of workplaces such as spas, massage studios, rehab clinics, cruise ships, hotels and resorts, health clubs, sports medicine facilities, private practices, and the offices of physical therapists and chiropractors.