Massage Therapist Salary Guide [Salary & Career 2021]

Massage Therapist Salaries

Massage Therapist Job Description

Massage therapists use touch to manipulate soft-tissue muscles of clients for either therapeutic or relaxation purposes. They have over 80 types, or modalities, of massage to select from, each of which requires a certain technique. Most therapists specialize in a few modalities to provide massages ranging from five minutes to two hours. Physical condition and needs of the client usually determine the type and length of massage. Massage therapists work by appointment in private offices, within the home of a client, or at locations like fitness centers, hospitals, or even airports.

Massage Therapist Job Outlook

2008 – 2018 Employment Changes 23,200 new massage therapy jobs 19% increase in employment

Massage therapy is expected to experience faster than average employment growth- 19 percent from 2008 to 2018. Individuals who complete a formal training program and receive a passing score on the required examination will have the most opportunities. However, most new massage therapists will work part-time until they build their own client base. As of May 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that California, Florida, Texas, Washington, and Illinois employed the most massage therapists.

Massage Therapist Education & Training

As of 2009, the District of Columbia and 42 states had massage therapy-related laws. Most state boards require that massage therapists complete a formal educational program and pass an exam. Public or private postsecondary institutions offer education, which usually includes 500 hours or more of study. To be admitted, students usually must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Students learn anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, ethics, and hands-on massage techniques. Some training programs focus on one or more modalities.

A state board generally accredits a massage therapy program but an independent agency may also provide accreditation. Continuing education is required within some states to ensure that massage therapists increase their knowledge and are exposed to new techniques. Those entering this career must be able to make clients comfortable because massage is sometimes a delicate issue.

In the states regulating massage therapy, individuals must get a license before they practice massage. A passing score on an exam is often required to earn a license. States offer exams and there are also two national exams: the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) and the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB). The state licensing board determines which tests are acceptable. Licensure renewal may be required to continue in this career.

Massage Therapist Salary Statistics

In May 2010, a mean annual wage of $39,770 was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the 60,040 people employed in this field. The lowest ten percent of earners received an average annual wage of $17,970, the middle 50 percent earned $34,900, and an average annual wage of $69,000 was paid to the top ten percent of earners in this field.

The personal care services industry had the highest employment levels in this field. Many massage therapists also found work in the industries of traveler accommodation, recreation and amusement other than theme parks, and the offices of physicians and other health practitioners. Specialty hospitals other than substance abuse and psychiatric hospitals were the top paying industry, featuring an annual mean wage of $55,020. Dentist offices, junior colleges, nursing care facilities, and general surgical and medical hospitals were other high paying industries.

Massage Therapy Salaries by State

Discover the average pay by state in the interactive image below…

Alaska paid its massage therapists an annual mean wage that averaged $86,250, nearly $30,000 more than the second highest-paying state of Delaware. Other states that offered the best pay included Washington, Vermont, and New York. An annual mean wage of between $19,010 and $31,330 was offered by the lowest paying states including Alabama, Oklahoma, Nevada, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Ohio.

States with the Highest Wages

Looking at the top five paying states for the massage therapy profession, Alaska stands out as paying an exceptionally high average annual salary at $80,500. Massage therapists in Alaska earn approximately $29,240 more than therapists employed in the state of New York. This is a 57% difference. But upon further study, the salaries between the remaining 4 states on the chart are much closer together. Massage therapists in Connecticut earn an average of $6,360 more than therapists in New York which is 12% higher. Excluding Alaska, as of May 2008 according to the U.S. Department of Labor, massage therapists earned compensation in the $51,000 to $57,000 range on the average in the top 4 paying sates.

Massage therapists are often self-employed. They work in a number of businesses including the travel/hospitality industry, physician offices, health care facilities, fitness centers and health clubs, and physical therapy or occupational rehabilitation facilities to name a few. Compensation is determined by a number of factors and the state in which the job exists is one of them. Other factors include the years of experience, the industry of employment and the method of charging.

Many therapists become self-employed after first working for someone else to gain experience. A massage therapist usually has a choice of working full or part-time which is one of the advantages of this career. As more and more people learn to appreciate the benefits of massage, the employment opportunities are expected to grow steadily.  If possible, you can choose a geographic area known to pay higher salaries to massage therapists in order to maximize compensation.

States with the Highest Employment Levels

Massage therapy salaries for states with the highest employment levels are all over the pay spectrum. In Alaska, massage therapists earned an average annual pay of $80,500 or $38.70 per hour in May 2008. In Nevada, massage therapists earned an average of $11.22 per hour. In other words, Nevada massage therapists earned 245% more than Nevada massage therapists.

Pay amounts among the top five vary considerably with therapists in Colorado earning $39,520 or 19 per hour while those in Washington State earned $55,460 or $26.66 per hour. The Hawaii massage therapists earned pay similar to Colorado therapists at $20.238 per hour or $42,380 annually.  This chart indicates that geographic location should be considered when seeking to earn top dollar in the massage therapy industry.

Massage therapists had a negative image at one point, but that has drastically changed. This is a career that is respected and is employed in a number of industries. Though frequently hired by medical facilities and nursing homes, massage therapists are now offering stress relieving massages in dentist offices and physician offices. The hospitality industry is another area where employment opportunities are expanding.

A growing population coupled with broader acceptance of massage therapy as a legitimate and health benefitting practice is creating an expanding job market for massage therapists. Therapists with experience who are certified in various types of massages will find excellent opportunities for earning top pay. Carefully choosing the state of employment will enable therapists to increase compensation at a faster rate than would be possible otherwise.

Cities with the Highest Wages

The top paying metropolitan areas for massage therapists pay excellent wages. Anchorage, Alaska tops the list at $85,070 as of May 2008 which equates to pay of $40.90 per hour. The next 4 metropolitan areas don’t pay as much but the average annual earnings remain high. Chico, California pays an average hourly rate of $37.01; Eugene, Oregon pays $32.81; Bremerton, Washington pays $30.61; and Olympia, Washington pays $30.01. It’s clear that the city of employment can make a significant difference in the amount of pay earned. The annual pay difference between Anchorage and Olympia is a very large $22,630 or 36.2%.

To maximize earnings as a massage therapist, you can carefully choose your location where wages are documented as being higher. The national average annual wage as of last May was $39,780 per the U.S. Department of Labor so clearly the metropolitan area of employment can make a big difference in earnings. In Olympia, fifth on the list of top paying metropolitan areas for massage therapists, the pay was $62,400 which is almost 57% more than the national average.

Also impacting the pay besides location is the type of industry, the years of experience and whether the therapist is self-employed or works for a business or facility.  Affecting the average pay calculations is also the fact that most massage therapists do not work 40 hours a week providing massages. Unless they are paid an annual salary, many work less than 40 hours because of the physical demands of the job.

Cities with the Highest Employment Levels

The metropolitan areas where there are the most number of massage therapists per one thousand workers vary considerably in size. Large cities like Olympia, Washington and Napa, California are on the list along with smaller cities like Hot Springs, Arizona.  As a result the average annual wages vary significantly.

A massage therapist in Olympia, Washington earned an average of $62,440 in May 2008 while a therapist earned $20,470 in Hot Springs. This is a difference of $41,970 annually with Olympia massage therapists earning 205% more than therapists in Hot Springs.  Though the spread is not so wide between Olympia and Napa, it is still $19,120 or 44.1%. With a national average wage of $39,780, it can be seen that some metropolitan areas pay quite well while others pay well below the average.

Compensation for massage therapists is partly dependent on the geographical location of the position. For example, in Las Vegas massage therapists working in spas, casinos and hotels are plentiful which drives down the area wages. But other factors will also determine actual pay.

These factors include the types of massage skills a therapist has mastered and the years of experience for example. Many massage therapists are self-employed and must build up a clientele to achieve the desired compensation. Therapists usually work by the hour or charge on a fee-for-service basis. The U.S. Department of Labor projects employment growth of 19% through 2018 or an additional 23,200 positions coming open during the years 2008 through 2018.

Related Occupations

Chiropractors, physical therapists, and athletic trainers provide services similar to those offered by massage therapists. Chiropractors offer diagnosis and treatment of patients whose musculoskeletal system health issues affect their general health and nervous system, with spinal manipulation a common treatment. Physical therapists diagnose and treat patients with medical issues that limit their movements and ability to perform functional activities. Athletic trainers help prevent, treat, and rehabilitate bone and muscle injuries and illnesses of everyone from industry workers to professional athletes.

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