According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were approximately 122,400 massage therapists working in the United States in 2008. That number was expected to increase by 19 percent within 10 years. The growth potential makes a career in massage therapy look very promising. However,it’s necessary to consider the massage therapist salary before going through the steps to start down this career path.
The first thing to do to become a massage therapist is to get the appropriate education and become certified. Many schools across the nation offer certificate or degree programs in massage therapy. Often, the program includes a curriculum that offers courses ranging from physiology, kinesiology, and anatomy to professional ethics, business practices, and state health laws. Additionally, massage-specific classes are included in the coursework, such as massage theory and practice and Swedish massage. Typically, a hands-on element is included, whether it is developed through internship opportunities or credit hours in the program. Some schools offer several certifications in massage and other alternative theories. The more certifications a student acquires the higher the accompanying massage therapist salary may become.
A massage therapist must become licensed in most states in the U.S. in order to practice massage therapy. Licensing guidelines are specific to each state, but many of them share basic guidelines. In most states, massage therapy licensee applicants must:
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Complete a degree or certificate program in massage therapy that meets the state’s guidelines
- Pass a background check that reveals no convictions of drug-related offenses, violent crimes, or charges that indicate moral deficiencies
- Pass a national massage therapy examination, as well as (in some cases) a state test
Massage therapist salary rates vary between self-employment and working as an employee at a spa or healthcare facility. The U.S. Department of Labor indicated that in 2010, self-employed independent contractors made an average of $42 per hour for massage therapy services. Approximately 57 percent of massage therapists in the U.S. were self-employed.
The remaining 43 percent of employed massage therapists reported making approximately $17 per hour, including tips and other gratuities. While self-employed massage therapists made considerably more than those employed by others, independent contractors must also pay their own taxes, provide their own supplies, and fund their own businesses, which factors into the extra per-hour rate.
Specialized massage therapists who work in particular fields, such as sports, geriatric, or pediatric massage may make higher massage therapist salary rates than those who work in general practice. Often, specialized massage therapists work in healthcare facilities, high-end gyms, private care clinics, or rehabilitation centers. Their incomes are significantly higher because their skills are in higher demand and they are more skilled than their counterparts. Additionally, the more certifications that massage therapists have, the higher their income may be. Certifications in alternative therapies make the massage therapist more versatile and skilled than others, making their skills a hotter commodity, with a higher price tag.
The region in which a massage therapist works may influence the massage therapist salary, as well. Resort areas or the northeast have higher costs of living, which directly impacts the costs of services such as massage therapy. A massage in the state of New York often runs several dollars more than the same type of massage would in Kansas or Missouri. Someone wishing to bring in a higher wage may choose to set up shop in a region where massage therapy services have a higher rate per session.
Additionally, the massage therapy salary is directly impacted by the size of the local community. Massage therapists in larger cities command a much higher rate per hour than those located in small towns, because their skills are more in demand by more people. Thus, the massage therapist salary of a big city massage therapist will be significantly higher than that of a massage therapist located in a small town.