Are Massage Therapists Doctors?

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Massage therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors…are they’re all the same?

They are not all the same, and in this article, we’ll explain how they’re different, and as well as address other facts you should know.

Are massage therapists doctors? No massage therapists are not doctors. Like any profession related to medicine and healing, a massage therapist needs to take coursework for a year to two; put the required number of hours of hands-on training requirements; pass the licensing examination; apply for a state license to practice; and get certified, although certification is not a requirement but it adds more credibility when you want to specialize.

Let’s take a deeper look at what massage therapists do and how they become one.

What Is A Massage Therapist?

massage therapist standing with arms crossed looking to her left defines massage therapist as “a trained individual who is licensed or certified to therapeutically manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body using one or both hands or an instrument.”

Of the 52 states and other jurisdictions in the USA, 45 of them require massage therapists to be licensed to practice their craft, whether it’s independently or with a wellness center (or spa).

What Does A Massage Therapist Do?

There are a number of services that a massage therapist may provide for their client-patients; these services depends on their training and area of expertise, as well as where they work (freelance, wellness center,  spa, etc.).

The most common type of massage provided are:

  • shiatsu
  • acupressure massage
  • prenatal massage
  • sports massage
  • reflexology

Other duties include:

  • Ask client-patients about their medical history, current symptoms, and desired outcomes.
  • Assess client-patients to check where there are sore or tight areas of their body.
  • Massage and manipulate muscles and other soft tissues of the body.
  • Create an environment that is relaxing for the client-patient; showing respect for their individual comfort level and privacy.
  • Give client-patients direction on stretching and strengthening muscles, overall relaxation, and how to improve their posture post-massage.
  • Keep track of client-patients’ progress.

What Training Do Massage Therapists Go Through?

Education requirements vary from state to state.

Training to become a massage therapist involves 5 steps.

1. After high school, take a training course for a year or an associate’s degree in massage therapy. The certificate or degree should come from a school approved by the state. Some of the areas of study that will be covered include anatomy and physiology, healthcare values of massage, pathology, hygiene, business and license procedure, and professional ethics.

2. Finish the required number of hours for hands-on training. The hours vary state to state and is anywhere between 330 to 1000 hours. This is mandatory before you’re able to apply for a license. One way to do this is with an internship or to work at a school’s massage clinic.

3. Pass the exams to get a license. This can be done in 2 ways. First, is to take and pass an exam created by the state. The other is to take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). This is a 100-question exam that should be completed in 2 hours. The MBLEx is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB).

4. Apply for a state’s license. Include proof that you‘ve met the requirements for a license when applying for the license, Requirements also vary per state, to learn what your state’s requirements are, check the American Massage Therapy Association’s website.

5. Get certified. This is optional but it can make getting a license or landing employment much easier. It also lends more credibility. Certification requirements include completing the required number of hours and passing examinations.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Massage Therapist?

Depending on what program you take, the course can be finished in a year for a certificate, or 2 years for an associate’s degree.

A training program will include classes and coursework which will include discussions on the general information about massage and technical instructions on how to perform it.

There will also be lab work to work on massage techniques.

A big determinant of how long it takes to become a massage therapist is the number of hands-on hours required.

As mentioned earlier, some states have a legal minimum of 330 hours, while others require up to 1000 hours of hands-on training.

What Skills Does A Therapist Learn?

Aside from general massage instructions and massage techniques, the following are also taught in massage therapy programs:

  • Myology (study of the muscular system)
  • Kinesiology (study of body movement)
  • Contraindications and limitations of massage
  • Self-care
  • Hygiene

Other fields and skills are obtained depending on your specialization (i.e. sports massage, prenatal massage, Asian massage, etc.).

Continuing education is important for therapists to ensure they’re up-to-date with all the practices, laws, and current research in the field.

Continuing education classes can be taken online, check the American Massage Therapy Association for available online classes and schools in your area that offer classes.

What Traits Make A Good Therapist?

If you’re considering going into the field of massage you’ll want to see if it’s the right fit for you.

Here are some things the make a good massage therapist.

People skills. A friendly demeanor, empathy, and the ability to connect with your client-patients are essential. This helps to make your client-patients comfortable and become repeat customers.

A healthy body. Being a massage therapist is physically demanding – long hours on your feet, manipulating limbs, and repetitive movements can be taxing on the body and the mind.  

Integrity and confidentiality. A massage therapist is privy to a lot of confidential information about the client-patient. Similar to a doctor, or any healthcare provider for that matter, massage therapists are also covered by HIPAA rules and regulations.

Office administration skills. You may also need to do the following: scheduling appointments, billing, record keeping, bookkeeping, and marketing.

Where Can A Massage Therapist Work?

The demand for massage therapists is on the rise.

According to the US Department of Labor, the job outlook for 2016-2026 is a steady 26%.

Aside from working as a freelance massage therapist and being your own boss, you can also be employed in the following lines of business:

1. Spas

2. Health and wellness centers

3. Rehab clinics

4. Cruise ships

How Much Do Massage Therapist Make?

The Health and Wellness industry is a $4.2 Trillion global business as of 2018.

The spa industry alone is worth $99 Billion.

In the US, Alaska has the highest annual mean wage of $86,980 while Mississippi’s is the lowest at $27,630; the average median across the US is $41,420.

Can Massage Therapists Have A Practice?

Definitely. As long as they are state-licensed, they can open their own practice.

There are limits to the scope of the work of a licensed massage therapist – they are not licensed to diagnose and prescribe medication or procedures to treat illness.

Massage therapists also have to be clear that massage therapy is a complementary therapy to treat illness and is not the primary treatment.

Doctors have now widened their perspectives and acceptance of massage as an adjunct to medical treatments and would often refer patients to licensed massage therapists and practitioners.

What Conditions Can Be Treated With Massage?

The following is a list of conditions where massage could help:

  • Arthritis
  • Athletic injuries and tendonitis (tennis/golfers elbow, jumpers knee)
  • Bursitis
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) and Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Headaches and migraines, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD)
  • Insomnia
  • Lower back pain
  • General muscle tension, muscle spasm, and muscle strains
  • Respiratory problems
  • Stress

Are Massage Therapists Covered By Insurance?

There are some states that require licensed massage therapists to get individual liability insurance aside from their employer’s business coverage.

Individual coverage for a client-patient will be dependent on the insurance provider and type of insurance they have.

What’s In A Name?

There are a bunch of different names and titles out there and it can be a bit confusing.

So let’s clear some of them up.

Massage Therapist Vs Masseuse

A masseuse is a female massage therapist while a masseur is a male massage therapist.

You should also know that massage therapists can also be called massage practitioners.

Certified Massage Therapist

A certified massage therapist refers to a professional that agrees to adhere to a standard of quality when providing services.

The certification proves the massage therapist is on the accepted level of service or has exceeded it.

Licensed Massage Therapist

Being a licensed massage therapist allows you to work professionally.

While getting certified is optional and adds more depth to a therapist’s training, getting a licensed is a must if you want to get employed.

Physical Therapist

two physical therapists providing care to a woman who can not walk

Physical therapists focus on the rehabilitation of the body, often after an injury or accident, to restore or at least reach a functionality that will make the patient move independently.


chiropractor in blue uniform working on a patient

A chiropractor manipulates the body along with spine, joints, and nervous system.

Chiropractors can also order blood work and x-rays as well as make diagnoses.

Both chiropractors and physical therapists finish 4-year degrees and a few more years of training; with a chiropractor graduating with a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree and a physical therapist graduating with a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.


Neely, G. (2016). What You Need to Know About HIPAA Requirements. Retrieved from

National Center for Integrative and Complementary Health staff. (n.d.). Massage Therapy: What You Should Know. Retrieved from

Learn How To Become staff (2019). How To Become A Massage Therapist. Retrieved from

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Massage Therapists. Retrieved from

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff at MindBodyPal is a team of experts led by Tyson Chiu. We love tacos, lattes and Funky Fridays.