Massage Therapist Career Paths: Opportunities for Advancement

Massage therapy is maturing as a profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the industry to grow at a rate much above average in the years between 2012 and 2022 ( US News & World Report describes the massage therapy profession as having average upward mobility but above average flexibility (

For many — 80% according to the American Massage Therapy Association — massage therapy is a second career ( Therapists may begin to work in the industry, or build their own clientele, while still working in other professions.

Massage therapy can be a viable first career, too; there are many places you could end up.

Starting Off

Your first job, if you are relying on massage as your main income source, could be working for a franchise. Franchises are a growing industry. The work doesn’t pay as much per hour as self-employment but can provide more hours. It takes time to build business skills as well as massage techniques and reputation. You could get hired in another setting, such as a day spa or fitness facility. There are also some off-the-beaten path alternatives. A cruise ship offers the opportunity to see the world, but typically involves some very long hours. There is no rent to pay while on tour, but signing on can mean you have little in the way of personal space for a period of months. In short, it’s not for everyone — and not forever.


Once you establish yourself, your opportunities may well grow. Your career can take different paths depending on whether you are more interested in massage as treatment for specific conditions or as a general source of relaxation and rejuvenation. Where you go with your career may also depend partly on the environment you find yourself in.

In a spa environment, the American Massage Therapy Association notes, you may end up learning beauty techniques like scrubs and wraps. However, what you can do (without additional education and credentialing) will depend on your state of residence ( Some massage therapists advance to managerial roles. Others move on to self-employment – sometimes even opening their own spas.

Many massage therapists are self-employed, though not necessarily on such a grand scale; the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts self-employment at 46%. Some massage therapists have home offices while others travel to other people’s homes or contract with businesses. Among the emerging trends: mobile massage.

You could also enter the corporate world — in a way that’s far from mainstream:. Corporate massage is another interesting trend. Google, not one to be shy of the benefits they offer the best and brightest, has massage numbered among them.

Healthcare offers its own opportunities. Massage is more frequently included in treatment plans than it was in previous decades, and insurance companies are more likely to cover the services. Some massage therapists work in integrative care.

If you read profiles of massage therapists in healthcare settings, you’ll see that a number of them have had prior healthcare experience ( However, it’s not a requirement. Academic education and continuing education can both be assets. One state, Maryland, requires massage therapists who work in certain settings to have 60 credit hours of academic coursework: roughly the equivalent of an associate’s degree.

If you are interested in treatment options, you could eventually decide to pursue further education, for example, a graduate degree in integrative health. Physical therapy is related to massage therapy, but the minimum educational level is set much higher. A physical therapy degree takes about three years of graduate study, so it’s a more viable pathway if you already have a degree. Read more about Massage Therapy Schools and look for advanced areas of study.

Following Your Passions

Where you end up will depend on your passions as well as your academic background. Massage therapy and technique are often described as Eastern and Western. If you’re drawn to the Eastern, you may want to pursue training in complementary modalities such as herbology. It may be an asset to pursue adjunct credentials.

Unsure of your path? You may want to take the AMTA workplace options quiz (