Massage therapy is an ancient practice that brings benefit to patients in a variety of ways. It is used to relieve pain, decompress muscles and joints, reduce stress, treat injuries or aid in recovery, and promote general health. The therapist does this by manipulating the patient's soft tissues to improve circulation, loosen muscles, and remove waste products from the muscles.
There are over 80 different types of massage therapy. Most therapists are skilled in one or more areas. Some types of massage therapy, or modalities, are:
- Sports massage
- Deep-tissue massage
Massage therapists may work in clinics, fitness centers, or in hospitals. Some travel to the patients, either in their homes or in their workplace. Most massage therapists are self-employed and own their own business or are in a partnership with other therapists. A higher-than-average percentage of people in this profession are self-employed. Additional costs for self-employed therapists include buying and maintaining equipment (tables, lotions, etc); renting or owning office space; and insurance costs. They often have to perform administrative tasks and recruit new patients. The benefits of self-employment include autonomy, the ability to set one's own hours, and (eventually) higher earnings.
Massage therapy is physically demanding work - care must be taken by the therapist to prevent injury. During training for certification, therapists learn good technique, and also to space out massages and other ways to stay well. In many cases, a good massage with another therapist can take away aches and pains!
Massage therapists held approximately 97,000 jobs in 2004; about 2 out of 3 were self-employed. About 75% of massage therapists worked part-time or had variable schedules. Because of the physically demanding nature of the work, and the need to space out appointments and have flexible hours, therapists who work even 15-30 hours per week may consider themselves full-time. Median earnings for massage therapists, including gratuity, were $15.36/hour in 2004. Therapists generally earn 15-20% of their income from tips - but those working in clinical or hospital settings usually do not get tips. Employment prospects are very good for this field, which is expected to grow faster than average for the 2004-2014 period.
Opportunities for advancement are different in this field than in others. Rather than moving up in rank, experienced therapists expand their client base and build long-term relationships with clients - this can lead to the ability to raise rates, earn better gratuities, and thus make more money. Organized, friendly, and dedicated therapists may open their own practice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, self-employed massage therapists with large client bases report the highest earnings.