How Much Money Do Massage Therapists Make?

by Gary on February 15, 2009

Massage Therapy SalaryBy Gary Eaton, LMT

When talking to massage school students and prospective students of massage therapy, there is one question asked more then all others combined; How much money can I make as a massage therapist?

Recently I was talking with a group of massage students preparing to graduate.I was asked to speak to them about the rigorous state board exam they were about to take and attempt to help calm their fears.In reality we spent much more time on the topic of how much money they could expect to make working as a licensed massage therapist.

My honest answer to them?It depends.Yes, that is correct.It depends. Sounds like a cop-out answer, but it is the best there is.

You see, there is no “correct” answer.You can go check out massage organizations and they can give you the government statistical breakdowns on how much therapist make, but that is just an average.You must understand that a majority of therapist don’t work at massage full-time (even the definition of full-time for massage therapists is up for debate – I consider anyone performing 15-20 hours a week of massage full-time).Many have a separate full-time job and only perform massage on the side.These part-timers skew the averages.

For those few working as a massage therapist full-time, it depends on how much they work, where they work, as well as their market, their marketing skills and even their abilities to run a business.Success actually has less to do with massage skills.That being said, you still need to have the skills to satisfy your customers in order to succeed.

The first factor to consider is how many hours you are going to work.Again, there are no 40-hour work weeks in massage.I personally average about 18 hours of hands-on massage a week.This is on the high side, as much more than that and burnout becomes a problem.So the number of actually hours of massage you can perform is one factor.

The industry you work in also makes a difference.Working for yourself is always going to pay better, assuming you have enough of a clientele to support you and don’t give your massages away.Renting a space can be relatively inexpensive, and if you control your overhead and keep the clients coming in the door you can make an exceptional income.I know a therapist averaging 15 hours of massage a week who makes over $100,000 a year.But she is the exception and performs very specific massage techniques, has been a therapist for over 20 years and charges a premium.

Starting your own business can be too much for most people, at least in the beginning, so many new therapists go to work for someone else.Where you go to work has a much bigger impact on your income.Some industries pay better than others, but there really is no standard.

I personally work at a clinic that has a couple of chiropractors.I have a separate practice that shares expenses, but I have a built-in network of referrals and I have been busy since day one.It seems to be the best of both worlds to me.

If you go to work for a spa, the pay depends on the quality of the spa.Some pay great, others not so much.Chiropractors historically have not paid well, but that has changed over the last couple of years as they see the benefit of combining massage and chiropractic adjustments.Another option is a massage clinic.These can be great places to sharpen your massage teeth, but the pay will vary depending on the clientele and how busy the clinic is.

One note here, and maybe I will do an actual post on this later, but the newer massage franchises are not the best places to work when it comes to pay.You can expect to make $15 or less an hour.The franchises can be a good place to gain experience, particularly if you don’t have any business acumen, but don’t expect to make a lot of money and you will want to watch your hours and not work too much.Franchises are notorious for burning out therapists by making them work long hours at lower-than-average pay.I personally wouldn’t recommend it, but that is just my opinion.

There are also resorts, cruise ships, hospitals and a variety of other areas to work as a massage therapist, and they all have their pros and cons.The pay rate can vary dramatically based on location and clientele.

One other consideration when figuring out how much you can make as a massage therapist is your market.If you live in New York City your per-hour rate for a massage will be much higher than if you live in, say, a suburb of Lincoln, Nebraska.Location makes a big difference.

I live in an area where the average price for a one-hour relaxation massage is about $65.But I could easily find someone to give me a massage for $30, or I could go to a high-end spa and pay $130.As a therapeutic massage therapist, my rates are, on average, $90 per hour.

So, how much can you make?Like I said, it depends on where you live, work, and how much you can realistically charge.That being said, it is very realistic for you to make at least $20-$25 per hour starting out.If you start your own business you can make much more.The biggest question is, how many hours per week can you actually work, hands-on, doing massage.

As you can see, there is no simple, straight-forward answer to how much money a massage therapist can make.The reality is you can make a little or a lot.It all depends on you.

Gary Eaton is a licensed massage therapist and writer living and working in Portland, Oregon. He manages a thriving therapeutic massage practice and is a featured writer for Massage Schools Guide.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Eaton February 18, 2009 at 11:48 am

You make a great point Dave. Setting an hourly rate can be a big challenge for some therapists. Some really have a hard time charging enough. They somehow feel guilty about charging too much. But the reality is we provide a great service and people are willing to pay a fair price for that service.

So don’t be afraid to charge too much. You should raise your rates every year or so as well.

Thanks for the comment Dave!

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Eliza August 12, 2009 at 1:37 pm

This was very informative! Thank you. I’m trying to choose a good school to go to. What should a good massage school offer?

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Erika August 29, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I’m currently separated from my husband so I figured I would do something with my life. I’ve always enjoy messaging people like family memebers . They all say I should study to be become a message therapist be cause I have good hands. I would like to know how much it cost to go to school? Is it hard to become a message therapist? I been a stay at home mom for the last six years , so I would like a job that will allowed me to be with my daughter still

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Robin February 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm

I have been a CMT since 2003 in CA. I charge $50 – $60 an hour and $70 – $80 for an hour and a half.. it goes a long way with the clients to NOT milk them for a great massage! they really do come in more often when they feel appreciated, you have to remember they work hard for their money to! I also do not accept tips from clients who come in weekly or bi- weekly and I do 3, 4 or 5 clients a day! Working Sundays helps, no one else wants to work that day so if your doors are open guess who’s going to get the business :)

It took me 3 years to establish a good clientele basis now I take home $50,000 a year and live pretty comfortably.

#1 When a client pays you in cash DONT SPEND it!
set it aside until you can make it to the bank and YES $40 counts! :)

#2 Pay yourself every two weeks, once a month or weekly if you have to so you don’t spend your daily earnings, you also wont/shouldn’t feel broke that way and wont be tempted.

I hope this helps. it’s a fun and very rewarding career!

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Jyoti June 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm

great feedback thank you for posting gr8t tips.
for new therapist

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Robin February 21, 2012 at 6:24 pm

I paid about $1,500 for a Swedish certificate just to get started.
Where I live you only have to have 130 hours to get a business license.

By now I have spent roughly $4,000 in additional training i think..

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Rod Dudley April 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Gary,
Nice article. What I wonder is why good therapists are hard to hire? I pay more than the average wage for compensation, provide everything a therapist needs to be successful, and yet I constantly hear disappointment. Our average on hands wage starts as low as $19.00 and up to $29.00 an hour plus tips. Many of the “SPAS” and competition pay much less i.e. $14.00 per hour. Where is the best place to recruit therapists that want to work as an employee? I feel my company pays fair wages, and supports our staff in ways that most of the competition doesn’t. Ideas and change is always appreciated. If Tabatha wanted to do a take over I would be the first to sign up for massage therapy!
Yours Truly
Rod Dudley
Owner/President
AHH, Inc

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Jacqueline Elliott July 13, 2012 at 10:58 am

I am currently a senior in high school and I do not know whether I want to be a massage therapist or a physical therapist. How do I know which one suits me best?

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sonia gonzalez July 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm

im thinking in to getting in to massage therapy school. is it worth it? will i make good money i live in mn. im a very hard working woman.

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