Pay in Massage Therapy: What’s for Real?

I just finished reading AMTA’s 2011 Massage Profession Research Report. It’s 66 pages of information that was created from several surveys conducted by AMTA and supplemented by government statistics.

The report covers many topics, including consumer demographics, information about massage schools and their students, where massage is fitting into the general scheme of health care in the US, and statistics on the practitioners themselves.

According to AMTA’s report, during 2010 the average massage therapist worked slightly less than 20 hours per week and made $41.00 per hour including gratuities. That was down from 2009, when the average therapist reportedly worked 20.4 hours per week and made 44.90.

In looking around for verification and figures to compare these to, I checked out the Massage Metrics by ABMP, and also referred to the AMA Health Care Careers Directory for 2009-2010 and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS has faulty statistics as far as I’m concerned, because they are based on a therapist working 40-hour weeks year round, which is usually not the case. Their formula shows the median pay to be $16.78 per hour. Many therapists only work part-time, sometimes keeping other jobs that provide them with needed benefits. The AMA publication cites therapists who do more like 15 hours of massage per week and make between $15,000-30,000.

I also conducted an informal survey recently of the 1200+ massage therapists who are on my Facebook page. I asked how much money self-employed therapists charge for massage, and asked for their location, and was not surprised to see how much variance there is from place to place. I got everything from $35 in rural areas to $120 in some of the bigger cities. However, you have to remember that’s the gross, and doesn’t take into account that the self-employed have overhead that can really cut into that. By the time one pays for space, advertising, telephone, utilities, laundry, and supplies, actual take-home income is probably half that, if not less.

As far as those who work for someone else, I personally know of a licensed massage therapist who makes less than $9.00 an hour working for a chiropractor. Another acquaintance who works in a ritzy day spa in Cape Cod during the summer makes as much as $2000 a week in take-home pay, but when she’s in North Carolina in the wintertime, has worked in day spas here for as little as $12 an hour plus tips. My own staff members are paid between $30-45 an hour depending on the work they do and how long they’ve been here, and I constantly hear from therapists who work elsewhere that I am the best-paying employer in our small town.

I believe all the above organizations did the best they could in compiling these reports. I also think they are all somewhat skewed (and in fairness, AMTA does quote a 3% + or – confidence level) by several things. No survey can possibly take in every massage therapist in the US. There are still unregulated states, and any therapist who isn’t a member of a professional organization or unrecognized by a licensing or certification board isn’t going to be included in any surveys. And people tend not to answer surveys; according to www.quora.com, a statistics site, a 3% return is about average on e-mail market studies. 10% is magnanimous. According to the laws of statistics, you can get an accurate sample from a little as a 1% response rate, but I think most of us have a hard time thinking that what happens with 1% applies to the rest of us.

When it comes to pay in massage therapy, what’s for real? It’s hard to say.

21 thoughts on “Pay in Massage Therapy: What’s for Real?

  1. Pingback: Pay in Massage Therapy: What’s for Real? | WIBB

  2. Elaine Miller

    Hi Laura. I own a business that employs 5 therapists, including myself. Our prices are on the low side, $48.33 (3 pack $145) or $55 (single). The therapist gets $27 plus an average of $10 in tips, so total $37 per treatment. Compared to Massage Envy (very popular in Columbus, OH), the therapists make $15 and their tips get included as income on their W-2. Two of my therpists came from ME and feel like they’ve gotten a huge raise. Plus, when they are not booked at my place, they do not need to come in to work. We usually do not take walk-ins. Where at ME, the therapist is scheduled and many times sitting with nothing to do but can not leave during their regular schedule. My two gals did NOT like that. Also, if they did not meet a certain quota in their number of massages, their pay went down to minimum wage including the massages they did do. We have straight pay per treatment they give, plus we do everything possible to make sure the client shows, such as reminder calls and email reminder. Love your blog! It helps me. Thanks!

  3. Julie

    This is one of my pet peeves in the profession that we do not have any accurate statistics about anything really!

    Massage schools are luring unsuspecting students into their classrooms promising a high paying career for only 500-1000 hours of education. It makes it sound like easy street. Then students are disappointed and leave the profession when they find they can’t make it on $9 an hour or even $40 an hour part time.

    My other concern is why are MT only able to work part time or not work the full 40 hours a week. I just had two drywall contractors in my house for a week and they work hard all day long and yes are in amazing physical shape. I do know some MT who do work that many hours and do it yes with some injuries but they also have the money they need to take care of themselves too.

    I don’t know what the answer is for this…but having some more accurate statistics would help and you would think with all of this technology that something could be done.

    Also why are there such low paying jobs out there still? Is it the old saying from Dr Phil – you teach people how to treat you? Are we teaching employers that we don’t deserve to be paid more by taking the jobs? (I know that people take them because they have to eat and I am not saying it is wrong to take a low paying job when you do need to pay the bills- just saying it is something to think about.

    Julie

  4. Dawn

    I am a seasoned massage therapist, only working 1 of my 10 years as a LMT in a day spa. The rest of that time, I worked on growing my own massage business. Yes, just me! I do work hard and I have worked even harder to get clients over the years and have a consistent amount of money made each week. That is what is very hard. When your regulars don’t book for that week, you don’t get any money and it is very hard to just fill it last moment. Also people think that just putting in the hours massaging hands-on is the only part of your business. But if you are self-employed, it is not. You are the receptionist, you are the marketer, you are the finance organizer, sometimes your even the webmaster! So I wouild say on the average I do make around $20,000-$25,000 a year but that is gross. The best thing to do, unless you want to go really big with hiring other LMT’s, is to keep your finances as low as you can because they really mount up. And also continuing education is very expensive and you want to do some cont. ed to be the professional that you are.It is not a job to make money really. It is a job that you love to do and try to make ends meet. If you need more money, you have to get it buy selling wares or teaching a class, coming up with a product to sell, or having another job. Of course, there is the occasional therapist who is just working for spending money and most of their real expenses are paid by their spouse. This is if they are not supplementing their income!

    This world is filled with jobs that pay so much money but what are they really worth? A massage therapist or anyone in the care taking field, for the most part, knows she loves her job and is helping people tremendously and unfortunately the money comes next. You don’t stay in the massage world exclusively if you want to make a lot of money.

  5. Sandy Fritz

    The issue is the confusion between what is charged for massage vs what is made per hour and an accurate comparison to a typical 40 hour work week wage. Massage therapists may charge $50 for an hour massage but that is not what they make as an hourly wage. One way to get an accurate hourly wage is to add up the amount of money made in a days work- lets say the massage therapist performed 4 massage sessions in one day grossing $200. Overhead costs must be subtracted regardless of who pays them be it the self employed massage therapist or a massage business employer. 50% of gross ( this includes money for income taxes) is fairly accurate for determining net income. In this example net income is now $100 for the days work. Now the net income needs to be divided by actual hours at work not just the hours doing massage. This massage therapist did 4 hours of actual massage but also needs to figure charting time, setup and cleanup time, general business responsibilities, laundry etc. Just to make this simple lets figure that the massage therapist worked a typical 8 hour work day. Now divide 8 hours into $100 net and you have a more accurate representation of real time earnings. $12.50 per hour in your pocket. $500 per week based on 20 massage sessions per week and a full time wage of about $ 26000 per year. Employers who pay an amount per massage are not paying by the hour. If a massage therapist does 2 massage session a day and a massage employer pays them $30 per massage, that amount has to divided by the actual amount of hours the massage therapist was at work. So the pay was $30 x 2 massage sessions or $60 gross. Taxes need to be deducted before net pay can be determined- $50 net for the day at work. If they were at work including time to get to work it is likely that those 2 massages took 4-5 hours resulting is an hourly wage of $10- 12 per hour.

  6. Sandy Fritz

    PS– If an employer was pay the massage therapist $30 per massage they would have to charge the client at least $50-60 for the massage to cover all expenses and make a small profit. Those working as employees should appreciate this.

  7. Sue Shekut

    Excellent post, Laura and a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I so heart you. 🙂

    Massage has become a commodity. People want cheap massages. Massage therapists want to earn a living wage. Therein lies the rub. (Bad pun intended.)

    Most MTs do not do 40 hours of massage a week. The public thinks we make $80 an hour because it costs them $80 an hour for a massage. But most construction workers will tell you (not in front of the boss, of course) that they have to take frequent breaks and do not spend the entire day doing manual labor. I personally can give 30 hours of massage a week but then I get injured, my body aches and I need about 3 massages a week myself! So 20-25 hours per week is my self imposed limit, based on experience.

    I addition, we only get paid for the time we work on a client. We do not get paid for sick days, vacation days, time spent marketing, scheduling, book keeping or doing laundry. We don’t get paid for canceled appointments, traveling to appointments, bad checks or time spent handling sexually harassing phone calls. That’s all part of “overhead.” (And as sole practitioners, we pay higher costs for health insurance, do not have an employer with a tuition reimbursement plan and don’t have a 401K or pension plan. Although we can set up an IRA is there is any money left over!)

    Other have made excellent points about what we actually make. I agree after taxes and overhead it comes out to about $10-15 an hour. For those that just got out of massage school with a $8000-$12,000 debt to pay off, that’s not much left for a living wage. What does MacDonalds pay now? In Chicago about $10 an hour.

    I am working on creating a Business Boot Camp for MTs in the Chicago area to help them learn how to make a better living doing massage. The schools are not teaching enough about marketing (at least not in my area). Too many students get out of school and think they will earn $80 an hour without an understanding of how these costs break out. And they can’t get higher paying jobs without experience so they work for ME or some other budget massage place. Which further devalues massage and encourages people to think of it as a commodity.

    I love what I do but it really frustrates me to see the income for MTs be so low. I understand we want our services to be affordable, but if people can’t eat, they can’t provide services.

    I appreciate you work, Laura and all the posts and books you write. Stay healthy cause we really need you!

    Sue

  8. Deborah Herriage

    Well, I’ve written on this topic before, but I believe the budget massage franchises are hurting therapists who want to create a real therapy business. I know there are differing opinions, but I have worked at two of these and was just offered a job in another one that is opening at the end of the month, and I turned it down. I get offered jobs because of my experience, and I offer Thai Massage as well as some other more specific therapies. I was told I was going to be taught Thai Massage at this new franchise and the pay is $15/hr. I replied “thanks, but no thanks” because I will not do Thai Massage for less than $40 for a one hour session. Thai Massage can be very strenuous.

    I live in a rural area where it extremely difficult to build a practice. I’ve tried it for 4 years and people come and go. They always tell me the love my work, but eventually, they hint around that they want it for less and there is an ME at the nearest city intersection so they are most likely going there for an occasional fix instead of keeping regular appointments. My fee has been $55/hr. for a few years, but I charge more when I have a treatment room. My last 3 locations have been taken out from under me with the current economy’s effects on real estate.

    I work for a chiropractor two days a week with an average of 6 massages. I get $22/hr. and do everything from frozen shoulder to prenatal massage. I have practiced yoga for 30 years and am certified to teach, which I did for 6 years, so I “prescribe” basic stretches to patients who can benefit.

    I’m strongly considering leaving the profession, at least for a while. I don’t get much pleasure from performing McMassage, but I love people and I do love my work. I put a good deal of time and “extra” attention into it. Obviously, I have a husband who supports me and I don’t do massage for the money, but I do see that adequate pay is definitely “not real” across the board.

    I won’t even get started on the schools.

    Laura, you’re always very sensible and helpful to others in massage therapy. Keep up the good work you do, because the profession needs souls like you.

    Best,

    Deborah

  9. LauraAllenMT

    Deborah,
    I hope you find the way to hang around for a long time. From reading your posts on FB I feel like I know you and I’d hate to see someone with a true calling get out of the business.
    LA

  10. Robin Shipley

    Great post, as a new CMT what to charge for a fee seems to flip flop. I have seen massages in my area range from $35 to $195. I too, live in a rural area, so I can attest to effort it takes to drum up clients. I’v pretty much gone through my circle of family & friends! But I truly enjoy what I do and very satisfied when I am able to give someone relief. At school they called me the “Sleeper” because I could put walk-in’s to zzzzzz. Working full time to take care of my family and massage part-time seems to be where I am at for now. Thanks for the webnair at ABMP last night!

  11. Sue Peterson

    Laura _ The subject of income is very hot right now — when I was in school in 1995 my first job paid $39 per $50 massage and required a license and insurance. My second job paid $80 per massage that was paid for eventually by insurance — I have no idea how much they eventually collected but it was probably $200-$300. It looks like the downward pressure on all salaries in the economy in general has had an effect on massage salaries as well. As the pay goes down, massage therapists who work for others will have to be happy with a “hobby job” – something people take as a secondary income to fill in hours when the kids are at school or whatever. I’ve seen a lot of conflict here as women are not very happy to find out they have to work nights and weekends. If people were making $30-40 per massage hour in 1995 are making $15-20 now, the demographics have to chenge.

  12. Sue Peterson

    Let me add that the goal of getting massage into the medical arena may also place downward pressure on compensation — rather than upward. If facilities can hire MTs for the spa rate of $10-$15 an hour, as opposed to other types of clinical therapists making $35-$50 an hour, MT’s will be welcome with open arms. that would further reduce the perception of skill involved to be an MT as well as limit schools to basic-only education. Medical is not the cure-all some MTs think.

  13. Pingback: What Are Massage Therapists Today? Business Owners or Practioners Earning a Wage? | Working Well Massage Coaching

  14. Peter De Cabooter

    Hello we are a guest ranch offering massages and have invested in a 7 month schooling for one of our staff to get his license.

    Normally our massage therapist performs 5 to 6 massages one day a week. Sometimes there are 8 customers – is performing 8 massages of 50 minutes once in a while too much?

    Please advise,

    thank you

    peter

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  17. Michael

    I’ve been a massage therapist for 10 years in Los Angeles. I love what I do and contrary to what I’ve read in the comments above, I believe you can make really good money as a massage therapist. For the past 5 years i’ve been making anywhere between $1200-$2000 a week. I should note that I work for myself and charge $120/hr. and I see about 15 clients a week on average. This is Los angeles so there are a lot of rich people out here. If you want to make money doing massage, my advice is to live someplace where there are a lot of rich people. I know a therapist in NYC that charges $180/hr.
    I have 2 friends in Los Angeles who have celebrity clients and make $200/hr. both male and female.
    And it’s not just about your skills although it’s important to be very knowledgeable and strong. It’s also important to be likable and have great communication skills with people. If you’re not a people person, don’t become a massage therapist.
    That’s my two cents for whatever it’s worth.

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  19. Kim Kirkman, LMT

    Thank you for this article and all the feedback posted. I have a home office and my chiropractor has recently retired. I have been looking to replace the two afternoons that I worked for them and I’m very discouraged to find that our pay scale has significantly decreased since 1995. I’m nervous to advertise to “Joe public” working from home which I’ve never had to do so far, but I might have to in order to make ends meet. Has anyone had any luck getting in touch with doctors or physical therapists for referrals?

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