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How to Start a Career in Massage Therapy

Table of Contents

massage therapist carefully massaging woman's back

In 2021, Chaz Armstrong won the Gold Medal for his division at the World Championship in Massage 2021 competition in Copenhagen, Denmark—his third straight win since he first started competing in 2018. Reflecting on his medals, his packed client schedule, and his thriving practice in Olathe, Kansas, he told Massage Magazine about how he got his start:

“I came home one day from high school and my mom was working on the internet. She said, ‘You’re not going outside until we figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life.’

I spent hours on the internet and right then and there I had to pick my career. I was about to graduate in a few months. We narrowed it down to being a meteorologist or a massage therapist. I thought massage therapy would be more consistent, so I decided to go to massage school.”

For Johnson, what started as simple interest and a love of hands-on learning became a successful career in massage therapy—and he’s not alone. Massage therapy is a great career choice for many people who want to make a living on their own schedule, work with their hands, and help people find relief from stress and physical pain.

Maybe you don’t have any aspirations for the world championship (yet!) but that doesn’t mean you can’t start a rewarding massage therapy career in just a few steps.

5 Steps to Starting a Career in Massage Therapy

1. START WITH RESEARCH

The first step in starting a career in massage therapy is to do a little bit of research. Some questions to answer are things like:
  • Do you want to work out of a clinic, spa, or salon?
  • Are you going to start your own practice?
  • What kind of massage therapy would you like to specialize in (e.g., deep tissue, sports, hot stone, Thai, and so on?
  • How many massage therapists are there in your geographic area?
  • How much can you expect to earn?
You will also need to research your state’s specific requirements so you can make sure you complete everything correctly. Since each state is different, you can do a simple Google search with “massage therapy state board (insert your state)” to find yours or view the list of state member boards at FSMTB.

2. SELECT A MASSAGE THERAPY SCHOOL

In order to become a licensed massage therapist, you’ll need a high school diploma (or GED) and you’ll need to successfully complete an accredited or approved massage therapy program.

Your state’s licensing requirements will often dictate the massage therapy school or program you need to attend (unless you are willing to relocate).

The best thing to do is to research massage therapy schools near you. You can create a list of all the schools around you and gather details about each school—like how much tuition costs, how long the program is (they can range from 6–15 months), what specific training is provided, and more.

On average, you should expect to spend between $3,000 and $15,000 on your full tuition for a one-year program, although some private institutions or specialist programs can run as high as $30,000.

Your massage therapy training will include much more than massage theory and application. You should plan on having to take science classes, like physiology, body mechanics, medical terminology, anatomy, and more. Once you have completed your student courses and training hours, you’re ready to prepare for your exam.

COMPLETE YOUR CLINICAL HOURS (IF APPLICABLE)

Some states require you to complete clinical hours at a student clinic. This gives you hands-on experience and the opportunity to network with professionals in the industry, both of which can give you a leg up when applying for a job after graduation. Check with your state board to see if clinicals are required in your state.

man getting stone massage

3. PREPARE FOR YOUR LICENSING EXAM

Every massage therapy student must take an exam to obtain a massage therapy license. This exam makes sure you understand your training and are ready to be a licensed massage therapist (LMT).

Many states use the Massage Bodywork Licensing Exam, also known as the MBLEX. Once you take the exam, your results will likely be available to you within a day. However, if you fail the exam, you will need to wait an additional 30 days before trying again, and you’ll have to pay the exam fees again as well. According to the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, the current MBLEX fee is $265.

When you have completed and passed your exam, you’re ready to officially start your massage therapy career!

However, before you start working on clients, you will need to get massage therapy insurance and promote your services to attract clients.

4. PURCHASE MASSAGE THERAPY INSURANCE

If you’re like 78% of all practicing massage therapists, you’ll be working solo, which means you need to purchase massage therapy insurance. Even if you are working at a spa or clinic, you’ll need individual liability insurance to get maximum coverage. Massage therapists face several risks each time they are with a client. You wouldn’t want to have to pay thousands of dollars out of your own pocket should an accident happen! Some common claims filed against massage therapists include:
  • A client is accidentally injured as a direct result of your massage treatment
  • A client accidentally falls off the table or trips while in your studio
  • A client claims that your massage therapy is ineffective
  • A client has an adverse reaction to a specific oil or product you use during their treatment
A professional liability policy is offered for all those who have passed the massage therapy licensure exam. It can help protect you against paying out of pocket if any clients bring a claim against you. As a licensed massage therapist, you may be able to get the coverage you need for as little as $9.99 per month.
woman giving man massage on table smiling at camera

5. PROMOTE YOUR MASSAGE THERAPY SERVICES

In today’s digital age, promoting your massage therapy business through online channels as well as word of mouth and offline marketing is essential for reaching a wider audience. Fortunately, it’s easy to build up your online presence and business profile with a little effort.

Create a Google Business Profile and a Yelp Profile

Creating a Google Business profile and a Yelp profile can have a significant impact on increasing your online visibility. These platforms allow potential clients to find your business easily when searching for massage therapists in their area. Make sure to include accurate contact details, high-quality photos, and relevant information about your services. Plus, both are free!

Both profiles also allow you to collect and display reviews. Be sure to encourage clients to leave a review of your massage therapy services as many people research and read client reviews when choosing between providers.
Set Up a Facebook Business Page & Targeted Ads

With over 2 billion monthly active users, Facebook is an excellent platform for promoting your massage therapy business. Set up a dedicated Facebook Business Page and regularly post engaging content such as tips on relaxation techniques, testimonials from satisfied clients, or updates on any special promotions or discounts you’re offering.

To reach an even wider audience on Facebook, consider running targeted ads. You can create ads that specifically target people in your local area who have shown an interest in health and wellness. Experiment with different ad formats such as image ads, video ads, or carousel ads to find what works best for promoting your massage services.

Leverage Word of Mouth

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising! Encourage your satisfied clients to share their positive experiences with their friends and family. Offer incentives like referral discounts or free add-ons to existing clients who refer new customers to you. Personal recommendations can be incredibly powerful in attracting new clients to your practice.

Launch a Referral Program

Establishing a referral program can be a game-changer for expanding your client base. Offer incentives to both the referrer and the referred client, such as discounted sessions or free upgrades. This not only encourages your existing clients to refer others but also gives new clients an extra incentive to give your services a try.

Build Your Brand Online With a Website

Finally, if you are a sole practitioner, investing in a dedicated website with online scheduling capabilities makes it easy for clients to see your availability, set appointments, and leave reviews. Your website serves as your main presence on the web where you can curate your specialties and pricing, and attract your preferred type of clientele.

Ready for more? See what to do after you’ve started your massage therapy business.

mature woman getting massage with head down

QUESTIONS ABOUT CAREERS IN MASSAGE THERAPY

Can you make a lot of money as a massage therapist?

The simple answer is: it depends! According to some salary databases, massage therapists earn an annual salary of anywhere from $35,000 to over $100,000. Your pay relies on lots of factors, from the number of clients you see, to your preferred method of massage, to other services you might offer, and more! For most, though, it’s entirely possible to make a livable wage from a career in massage therapy.

Where do massage therapists earn the most?

Perhaps one of the single greatest factors that affects your salary as a massage therapist is where you live and work. According to ZipRecruiter, the top five states where massage therapists earn the most money are:
  • New Jersey
  • Wyoming
  • Wisconsin
  • Washington
  • Massachusetts

How long does it take to become a massage therapist?

How long it takes to become a massage therapist typically depends on where you would like to be licensed, since each state has a licensing board that determines the specific number of hours of training you need to complete. Certain advanced degrees, like an Associates Degree, might also require more training and can take up to two years to complete if training full time. On average, becoming a massage therapist typically takes between 500-600 hours of hands-on training, which can be completed in 6-12 months if you enroll in a full-time program.

BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR CAREER IN MASSAGE THERAPY!

We hope this guide was helpful for you to understand how to get started with your career in massage therapy. Follow these steps and you’re on your way to be a successful massage therapist! We wish you the best of luck with your new career. Read more: After you’ve established your practice, keep reading our blog:

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