Massage Therapy

How to Understand a Massage Therapist’s Salary: The Story Behind the Numbers

The best way to understand a massage therapist salary.

So what’s the best way to understand a massage therapist salary? Truth be told, there’s no easy answer to that.

“The variations are huge across the country,” says Joanie Holst, MS, BCTMB, CNMT, CMLDT, CKTP, associate professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University.  

Massage therapist salary vary across the country.

More than that, Holst says the numbers themselves don’t really explain how massage therapists typically get paid. Nor do they convey the fundamental importance of contact hours vs. non-contact hours. We’ll get more into those in a bit.

It’s also crucial, says Holst, to weigh the monetary rewards with the many other factors that make being a massage therapist a great career choice.

For example, she points out that helping people relax or manage pain can be incredibly rewarding. On top of that, massage therapists are fast-becoming an integral part of the healthcare world.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at those factors. But first, let’s try to understand the earning potential of a massage therapist by looking at some numbers.

How to understanding salary averages.

How much is a massage therapist’s salary?

Larry Morgan of the Orion HR Group, a human resources consulting firm specializing in compensation analysis, reports the following average massage therapist salary information for the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area as of May 2020. 

Note that these salaries are for W-2 employees and do not reflect the income of massage therapists who own/operate their own business:

  • Graduate to one year of experience:  $42,000 annually, with data varying from $39,000 to $45,100
  • 10+ years experience: $52,850 annually, with data varying from $46,000 to $59,700

Remember, this is information for the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. Many variables go into formulating reliable salary estimates. That’s why providing a single nationwide number is not the most accurate way to understand what a massage therapist earns. 

Below, we provide information that will help in your salary research and explain a number of factors that go into determining a massage therapist’s salary.

What to look for in your salary research

There’s no shortage of online sources regarding a massage therapist’s income. But to make the most of your research, consider the following important points.  

Rely on the most trusted sources

According to Morgan from the Orion HR Group, the best salary information starts with industry surveys conducted by HR professionals. The results are then compiled and reviewed for accuracy. For any reported data that seems out of place, HR professionals conduct follow-up conversations. 

“In addition to having the right expertise, HR professionals have access to resources that will produce the most accurate and unbiased salary information possible,” says Morgan.

Keep these data caveats in mind

When it comes to online sources for massage therapist salaries, Morgan recommends paying attention to factors like the following: 

The source of the data. Does the source have bias toward inflated numbers? How is the data collected, and is it “scrubbed” for outliers that can skew results and make them less accurate?   

The method of data collection. How was the data gathered? By students, self-reporting, anonymous survey, HR professionals? 

Size of the data set. How many participating organizations and how many people does the data represent? The more organizations participating and professionals represented, the more likely the data can be considered accurate.

Date of the salary data. The marketplace is not static. The date the salary survey information was collected is important. The general labor market is trending upward at 3.1% to 3.2% annually. That’s why data should be “aged” to present day numbers.

Know the shortcomings of salary sources 

Morgan also says to be aware of the inherent shortcomings of salary sources like the following:

Professional associations and industry magazines. These rely on member- or subscriber-reported data. These data sets may be small, reflect higher end salaries, and could be biased toward favorable numbers.

Salary-specific websites. Popular sites like GlassDoor, Salary.com, and PayScale rely heavily or exclusively on self-reported salary information. The data sets reflecting salary amounts tend to be less accurate.  

Government sites. State government sites and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, may reflect data that’s low to market and difficult to review. 

However, they may be helpful in providing salary information, especially when considering location and the larger data sets from which their numbers are based.

Understanding hourly wage will help you understand earning potential.

How much does a massage therapist make in an hour? 

To understand the earning potential of a massage therapist, you need to understand the realities behind an hourly wage. Depending on where you practice, typical massage session time frames can range from 45 minutes to 60 minutes.

If you’re thinking about the massage therapy profession in terms of an eight-hour day, you should know that giving eight massages a day is simply not a realistic schedule for massage therapists. 

Why not? Because practicing massage therapy is physically taxing. The good news is that massage therapists can counter this by limiting the number of massages they give in a day and by using a combination of massage techniques that help conserve their energy. 

Depending on the specific workplace, you could still spend eight hours on the job. However, you won’t be doing eight actual hours of what the massage profession calls contact hours—the amount of time spent specifically doing massage.

Hourly wage scenarios. To understand more on the hourly rate question, imagine you’re an employee at a massage clinic that charges clients $75 per massage.

Your employer may agree to pay you a percentage of each massage session you do. Let’s say it’s about 33% (or one-third). So in that scenario, you earn $25 for a standard session. (That percentage would likely be maintained for massages you do that are longer or shorter as well.) 

Employers vary as to how they may pay you for your non-contact time. For example, some will incorporate downtime in the percentage you get paid for each massage you give. Others may pay you a set wage for the time you don’t spend actually giving a massage. 

On the other hand, if you own a practice and charge $75 per standard one-hour massage, a good portion of that money will go back into running your business.

One final note: Like so many other professions, the more experience, training and certifications you have, the more a client can expect to pay.

Keep in mind taxable income for owners vs. employees

Many massage therapists have their own solo practice. In these cases, massage therapists double as business owners. That means they have a host of overhead tax-deductible business expenses that can lower their reported taxable income. 

To understand what a massage therapist truly earns, this is an important point. The reported income for these massage therapists may appear lower than what some would expect (or hope). 

However, that income—thanks to legitimate tax deductions—may not necessarily reflect the true financial rewards they enjoy.

In turn, the income of massage therapists as employees will not reflect the various kinds of deductions that private practice owner-operators have.

Note that more and more massage therapists are joining hospital and clinic staffs. In these cases, they’re also receiving employee benefits like health insurance coverage, retirement benefits, and paid time off.

Remember that geography matters 

As we noted at the outset, where you practice as a massage therapist will influence how much you make. Keep this in mind as you’re looking at overall “average” salaries. 

Understand that compensation will vary with the work setting

If you’re trying to understand what a massage therapist can make, it’s important to know that your compensation will vary from one work setting to another. And massage therapists today can work in a wide range of places. 

Note that in spa-type settings and private massage therapist offices, massage therapists are more likely to receive tips. In hospitals and healthcare clinics, tips are less likely or possibly even prohibited.

Here are some examples of the many places massage therapists work today: 

  • Hospitals
  • Integrative care clinics
  • Primary care clinics
  • Corporate settings
  • Private practice
  • Wellness centers
  • Fitness centers
  • Spas
  • Luxury hotels
  • Cruise Ships

There are many attractive features to becoming a massage therapist.

Beyond the dollars: The many benefits of being a massage therapist

As you get a better sense of the earning potential for massage therapists, you should also consider a number of other important factors – and attractive features – that are part of the profession.  

Let’s return to Joanie Holst, MS, BCTMB, CNMT, CMLDT, CKTP, from Northwestern Health Sciences University to better understand some of them. 

In addition to being an associate professor in massage therapy, she has been a practicing massage therapist for nearly 30 years. 

An exceptionally bright job outlook for the foreseeable future

In recent years especially, Holst says the massage therapy profession has been going through some exciting developments. And there’s plenty of evidence that demonstrates this:

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a whopping 22% employment increase for massage therapists. That’s almost four times the average growth rate for all occupations.  
  • Given the painkiller/opioid crisis, a massage therapist’s non-invasive services are becoming an increasingly popular and effective approach for pain management. In fact, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), 88% of adult Americans believe that massage can help reduce certain forms of pain.
  • Research continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of massage therapy for pain. For example, the journal Pain Medicine states there is “clear evidence supporting the efficacy of massage therapy” as a pain management option.
  • The benefits of massage therapy extend to mental health as well. The AMTA points to numerous studies showing that massage can help those with anxiety, and the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has shown evidence that massage can alleviate certain symptoms of  depression.
  • Surveys conducted by the AMTA indicate that more and more medical doctors, chiropractors, and other healthcare providers are recommending massage to their patients. 

A rewarding, low-stress career helping others and being appreciated 

Why do people become massage therapists in the first place? Holst says the number one reason is that they want to help people. And for her the massage therapy profession is an exceptional place to do that.

“Every day you get to experience helping people feel better,” says Holst. And what makes the massage therapy profession even more rewarding is that, as Holst puts it, “People love to see us!”

“Clients walk through the door saying things like, ‘I’m so glad I’m here!’ How cool is that? It’s a great feeling to spend your day with people that are really happy to be with you.”

On top of that, Holst says you get to play a role in people’s health and wellness in a low stress environment. 

Growing opportunities for massage therapists in healthcare

Have you ever thought about becoming a healthcare professional? If so, Holst says there’s never been a better time to consider massage therapy. As integrative models of healthcare become more and more common, opportunities for massage therapists in the healthcare field will continue to grow. 

Both healthcare consumers and providers are looking for less invasive, non-pharmacological approaches to pain such as massage therapy.

The American Massage Therapy Association provides a detailed report of massage therapy’s advances in healthcare. Here are just a few examples from the report of how massage therapy has become an integral part of major – and influential – healthcare providers around the country:

  • Fifteen years ago, Michigan’s largest healthcare system, Beaumont Health, began a massage therapy program by hiring one massage therapist in its oncology department. The program has expanded into departments like cardiology, urology and pediatrics, and today Beaumont Health has dozens of massage therapists on staff.
  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City employs massage therapists throughout its facilities for inpatients and outpatients.
  • Mayo Clinic has been a true leader in integrating massage therapy into its inpatient and outpatient services since 2002.

In addition, massage therapy training and education can provide an excellent foundation of knowledge in health and the human body. Some massage therapists choose to expand this knowledge to eventually become chiropractors, acupuncturists, nurses, and more.

Massage therapists have numerous work setting options.

A profession with lots of opportunity to create your own path

In many ways, massage therapists enjoy a lot more freedom, especially compared to other healthcare professions, says Holst.

For example, self-employment is a viable — and popular — choice for many massage therapists, which makes it easier to shape your own schedule.

But that’s really just the beginning. 

If having your own massage practice isn’t for you, that’s not a problem. The opportunities in massage therapy are still vast, says Holst.

“Massage is found in so many environments,” Holst says. “You can work at a spa or resort or health club. You can provide massage onsite to office workers. You can be employed by a hospital.”

Holst explains there are also numerous other options to work at clinics or other types of practices like the following:

  • Massage therapy group practices or franchises
  • Chiropractic practices that also offer massage therapy 
  • Integrative clinics that provide massage therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture
  • Sports and rehabilitation clinics that include physical therapists, medical doctors, as well as massage therapists

Along with the variety of work environments, massage therapists can also specialize to work with specific kinds of patients or clients. Veterans, children, seniors, athletes, expectant mothers, cancer patients, hospice patients — these are just some of the many possibilities. 

Here’s a graphic demonstrating the wide variety of career paths that massage therapists have.

Massage Therapist Career Paths

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