Massage Therapist Salary

A Massage Therapist’s guide to employment and income.

massage therapy salaryMaybe you’ve just graduated from massage school. Or maybe you’ve hit a wall in your career and need to make a change.

This guide will give you an overview of various massage employment options – including income estimates. It must be noted, as with everything you do, how much money you make is totally and completely up to you. You are not held captive by these numbers. Where your massage practice is located, the kind of work you do, the demand in that area, and your drive all play a part in your income.

For example, in 2012, the average annual income for a massage therapist (including tips) was estimated to be $20,789. Charging an average of $62 for one hour of massage vs. $59 in 2011.1

Tips are also another topic of discussion. Some therapists rely on tips while others don’t accept them.

Each of the employment options listed can (and will) vary. This is a general overview to give you an idea of what to expect when looking for massage related work.

Employee – $14 – $16/hour -or- a percentage commission of each treatment given, usually between 45-65% of treatment price

As an employee you would perform your work as dictated by the business owner or manager of the company. In most cases, a dress code or uniform would be necessary. Room furnishings and massage supplies (including linens and lubricant) would all be provided. Appointments would likely be scheduled through a receptionist or some form of scheduling system managed and maintained by the company.

The people you treat are technically the company’s clients. Health intake forms and soap notes are the establishment’s property and will be stored at that location. Benefits, such as health insurance and retirement options, are sometimes offered. Laundry may or may not be part of your responsibility and should be discussed before hire. Hourly rates or salary options would be available. Advertising and pulling in clientele primarily falls on the establishment. (But it won’t hurt you to take part in that.)

What does this mean?

This means that you have the least amount of control in your situation. Yes, you can agree to your particular work hours but for the most part the company you work for calls the shots. It’s like working for any other company except you get to give massage.

What’s the good news?

While you have the least amount of control – you also have the least amount of responsibility. Sure, you are still responsible for giving a kick-ass massage and making sure you are handling things in a safe manner. But you don’t have to worry about advertising, hiring, or managing the business/legal side of the company. Just worry about showing up on time, follow the company policies, and go home for the day. Work can easily be left at work.

Where are some places I could look for work?

  • Chains/Franchises like Massage Envy, Elements, Hand and Stone, Rubz.

  • Day Spa

  • Retreats

  • Clinics and Integrative care centers

  • Physical Therapy Practices

  • Chiropractic Offices

  • Wellness Center

Freelance – $0-limitless/yr

Freelance massage work can be as frequent or sparse as you allow it to be. What contracts you sign, what you commit to, and how much you commit to is completely within your control. This gives you a ton of flexibility in your massage practice and your personal schedule.

You may need equipment and supplies (which may or may not include music, side tables, and clocks) but this really depends on the particular job, the type massage service you are providing (chair or table), and what the client needs. By the way, by “client” I mean – “the one who hired you.”

Freelance can come in the form of a sporting event, seated massage in a corporate office, or regular visits to a high end hotel. And everything in between. The sky’s the limit and you have the ability say “no” to job offers that don’t jive with you or assists you in reaching your goals.

What does this mean?

No rent. No boss. Just the task of completing what was agreed upon in your contract and making your clients happy. The work comes in the form of finding clients to hire you… and keeping them. Advertising and business cards would represent you and the massage services you offer so that’s a bonus but not required.

What’s the good news?

The good news is if you are raising a young family, have other demanding obligations, or another job (half of massage therapists [50 percent] also earn income working in another profession1), being a freelancer gives you total freedom over your commitments. There’s no overhead and advertising – should you choose – though depending on your goals, you might want to “get out there” in some form. You also have the ability to work on people without the pressure of collecting payment. (Since that should come from the company that hired you.)

Where are some places I could look for work?

Commission Based/Independent Contractor (IC) – $10,000-50,000/yr

Essentially you are operating your massage business out of someone else’s establishment. The arrangement can be commission based (where you pay a percentage per client) or a rental (a certain amount per day or per month). You would handle your own appointment scheduling. And that includes everything that goes with it: client contact, callbacks, rescheduling, and any customer service required. Client interaction is generally handled from start to finish – including payment. You may or may not need to supply your own table and room furnishings but generally linens and lubricants are your responsibility.

What does this mean?

An independent contractor, I feel, is very middle of the road. You still can set agreed upon hours or work days, among other things via contract. But it’s up to you how you handle your clients. (Be careful how you treat them, as this could reflect on the establishment as well! And they might not renew their contract with you.)  Paperwork wrangling is your responsibility.  Yes, you own all your clients’ general health intakes/SOAP notes and YOU are responsible for them.

What’s the good news?

If you don’t have clients, you don’t pay. Or if you have rent, it will likely be minimal. Your overhead won’t be terribly high as the establishment pays for the utilities but you still have responsibilities – like advertising, laundry, massage supplies, business cards and bringing your clients in. The establishment will also have all the proper legalities – like permits and licenses –  in place as well (but check with your particular Town/City to be sure of your responsibilities).

Where are some places I could look for work?

  • Wellness Center

  • Hair Stylist/Salon

  • Physical Therapy Office

  • Massage Therapy Office

  • Chiropractic Office

  • Retreat/Spa

  • Acupuncture Office

  • Naturopathic Doctor’s  Office

  • Yoga Studio

  • Fitness Club/Gym

Private/Solo Practice – $10,000-90,000/yr

Sole practitioners account for the largest percentage of practicing therapists (69 percent).1

A solo massage practice is just how it sounds. You work alone and solely own your business. This can range from a one room office to a space with multiple treatment rooms (which you could sublet to other practitioners for additional income). You are totally responsible for everything you need to run your massage practice: rent, utilities, snow removal (depending on the building owner), supplies, room furnishings, advertising, customer service, and getting massage clients in there.

What does this mean?

It comes down to how much you want your business to grow, how big you want to get professionally, and how many clients you can actively treat. All responsibility falls on you. Sometimes that can be liberating. Some massage therapists find it isolating. It truly depends on your personal and professional needs. Attending networking events (in-person or online) and conferences can help remedy isolation.

Anything that happens with your massage business – good or bad – impacts you. And ONLY you. Running your business can be handled with a very hands-on, detailed, and organized approach or by using an “as it happens” mentality. Ultimately, you are responsible for the outcome.

What’s the good news?

You have complete, total, and utter control. If you have a child in the school play one Tuesday night, you can totally go. Just block off your schedule and go. You will be unavailable to massage clients but you won’t miss your child’s special day. Have a friend in town? Go to lunch if your schedule is clear.  You can choose the direction of your business, massage modalities you offer, and not have to worry about clearing your decisions with a boss. Or how it will affect your staff. It’s all about you. Well, you and your clients.

Where are some places I could look for work?

  • Office buildings

  • Home Office

  • Store Fronts

  • Property You Own

  • Property You Rent

Employer – $40,000-130,000/yr

The most financially risky choice is employing others. This choice gives you the most responsibility because everything (from paper products in the bathrooms to filing the appropriate legal paperwork with local and state authorities) falls on your shoulders. You also are the go to person for every (no matter how small) problem, question, or dilemma. You make the decisions (alone, unless you have a team or people who offer support). You’ll be providing jobs, managing people, and everything goes along with it.

Operating your massage practice may or may not have to be put on the back burner depending on the type of establishment you want to run and the demands that go along with it.

What does this mean?

Basically, you’ve got a ton of responsibility heaped on your shoulders. How your team runs is within your control. (That doesn’t mean you have to be controlling.) You are the hirer and the firer. The head cheese. Being detailed, and organized is a must (otherwise, enlist help of someone who possesses these strengths). Being motivated is non-negotiable. It is a must to keep your business and team moving forward. Who wants to work for someone who is unmotivated and doesn’t care?

Decisions must be made and action needs to be taken. In short, you need to think beyond yourself and it requires a lofty commitment.

What’s the good news?

You can do some really, really neat things with your leadership. You can be a mentor, encourage your team, help them grow, and work together. In this process it’s unavoidable that you’ll grow and learn something new too. By having an army of equipped, skilled therapists on your side, your company will not only be profitable but you can make an impact locally and your clients will awesomely benefit.

Where are some places I could look for work?

  • Closed Spas or Salons

  • Vacant Buildings

  • New Construction

  • Houses for Sale/Lease/Rent

  • Plazas/Shopping Centers

Ultimately, all these options and suggestions are not concrete – almost anything, anywhere can be negotiated. It’s important to figure out what your professional and personal goals are so you can establish how much responsibility you can handle.

Look at the strengths you possess and the weaknesses you battle with. Are you detailed? Do you have trouble in sales? Do you like having an initial buffer between you and potential clients? Can your outsource or overcome your weaknesses? What would you like to spend a majority of your time on? How much massage would you like to give in a given week? What type of clients do you prefer working with?

All of these questions – and so many more – are largely important to ask in your search for massage employment and working conditions. Once an inventory of your personal traits and goals are in order, make appropriate decisions that will best support your desires.

Then you’ll be unstoppable.

1. AMTA 2013 Massage Therapy Industry Fact Sheet

Image courtesy of Michael Elliot/