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How To Become A Massage Therapist

Here is a quick, in-depth guide with all you need to know to become a massage therapist, including training and insurance requirements and where to get a job.

Massage is undoubtedly one of the best ways to relax, not to mention relieve tension in the body caused by our everyday lives. While many massage tools (and even chairs) exist, nothing quite beats a human getting to the source of the problem in the form of a massage therapist.

Compared to other careers in beauty, massage undoubtedly has excellent salary potential, especially if you become self-employed. Though in return, you’ll be expected to put in plenty of physical effort in order to give your clients relief from their aches and pains.

If you are considering becoming a massage therapist, here is what the journey to becoming qualified looks like.

Massage Therapy: An Overview

People seek massages for all sorts of reasons, usually to do with a stressful lifestyle. Or chronic pain caused by injury, repetitive movements or even poor posture.

Muscles, just like the rest of the body, produce waste material. However, what happens is that these toxins get trapped in the muscle fibers causing knots to occur. These areas can be quite tender, and cause excessive tension especially if located around the neck, shoulders or back. Massage therapy is one of the best ways to relieve the problem, especially in conjunction with physiotherapy, yoga, pilates or regular stretching.

People may also hold a lot of tension in their body due to traumatic life events, with some massage therapists even matching up certain areas of pain with particular emotional problems. The theory being the pain becomes stored in our muscle memory, therefore needs to be worked out with massage.

Your job as a massage therapist is to work on areas in the body causing pain, using strokes, kneading and tools to break down scar tissue and encourage blood flow to the area. Massages are performed in a private room with relaxing music and essential oils. The treatments can take anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the type of massage.

Types Of Massage

  • Aromatherapy
  • Couples
  • Deep tissue
  • Four hands
  • Hot stone
  • Indian head
  • Lava shell
  • Pregnancy
  • Remedial
  • Sports
  • Thai
  • Trigger point
  • Shiatsu
  • Swedish

Skills Needed To Be A Massage Therapist

Undoubtedly one of the top attributes of a massage therapist is the need to be physically fit, as you’ll spend most of the day on your feet, plus applying a lot of pressure with your upper body onto your clients. Unless you take good care of yourself, this can get pretty taxing, especially as the average massage therapist sees five clients a day.

It goes without saying that you have to be comfortable with the human body, especially with the different shapes, genders and ages this can include. Not only does massage therapy involve touching people, but you will be needed to carry out various techniques to get the job done, so you need to be confident enough to get stuck in.

On a personal level, you need to be someone who will put the client at ease. Not everyone is going to be confident baring their skin, and others may have stress or emotional problems they want to talk to you about. Although massage therapy isn’t formally a counselling session, clients may share details about their life which they wouldn’t do with others. So you need to be a great listener so you can understand the source of their physical pain which may have an emotional cause.

Benefits Of Being A Massage Therapist

Some people weren’t born to do an office job, and that’s certainly true for massage therapists. Instead, you’ll be interacting with different people every day, and most importantly making a difference to their lives.

On a basic level, massage therapists help people to destress and unwind, but they can also help them with chronic pain issues. All of which is incredibly satisfying, especially as clients may feel instant relief after just one session.

When it comes to setting a schedule, another benefit is that you can decide to work whenever suits you. This includes evenings and weekends when your clients are not at work. As a result, you may even choose to do massage therapy as a side hustle, or while balancing work or childcare.

Ultimately, working as a massage therapist allows you to earn money from something you enjoy. Even though you don’t necessarily need a degree, the salary potential rivals that of those who have had formal education. All without having to train for years on end to qualify, making it a very accessible career option.

Massage Therapist Work Hours

The reality of being a massage therapist is that it is physically demanding work. Therefore, it’s not practical to do a 40 hour week as you’d find in other professions.

Instead, most massage therapists average around 15-20 hours per week, excluding any admin or similar tasks. It’s therefore important to ensure your hourly rate covers all of your expenses, especially if you are self-employed.

Massages cost between £50 and £75 an hour on average. Even based on a 15 hour work week, that would bring in an income of between £39,000 and £58,500 before tax and expenses (read more in our article about massage therapist average pay). So there’s certainly room to earn a decent income, despite the shorter work hours.

Massage Therapy Work Locations

Typically, massage therapists work in beauty salons or at dedicated massage facilities, such as Spa & Massage, or similar venues across the UK. In the case of a beauty salon, you may have a room that is dedicated to giving massages including having a massage bed and a sound system.

Massage therapists also work in spas as well as in the hospitality industry. It’s also possible to travel the world as a massage therapist by working on a cruise ship.

Those who specialise in sports massage or have a background in physiotherapy are able to work in medical environments such as GP practices, hospitals and health spas.

Massage Therapist Qualifications

The Council for Soft Tissue Therapies is the governing body for massage therapy and recommends all therapists undergo training for at least 6 months full time, or 12 months part time. Some courses have a much shorter qualification threshold than this, though it’s good to note that if you want to be professionally recognised, you may need to extend your training.

What Education Is Needed To Become A Massage Therapist

The education for massage therapy differs, depending on the type of massage you wish to specialise in. The majority of courses only cover basic massage techniques, meaning further training will be required to increase your skills and ultimately earning potential.

It’s essential that whichever route you choose, you learn about muscles, joints, tendons, bones and nerves. Otherwise, the massage will not be beneficial to your clients and you could do more harm than good. That’s why thorough education is needed to understand the human body in greater detail.

These are some of the most popular massage therapy qualifications in the UK:

VTCT Level 3 Diploma In Massage Therapy

Duration: 16 weeks (12 month completion deadline) Fee: £1,899

This course covers Swedish, Indian head and hot stone therapy, which are the basic massage types found in most beauty salons. You’ll also learn about client consultation, health and safety, contraindications and aftercare advice.

VCTC also has other massage therapy courses, including one which covers other areas of beauty therapy such as waxing and facials. Such skills may make you more employable, especially if you are just starting out in beauty, though won’t be necessary if you specifically want to work in massage therapy.

NVQ Level 3 In Beauty Therapy (Massage)

Duration: 1 day over 12 weeks, or evenings over 28 weeks Fee: £1,900

Within the NVQ course, you’ll learn about body anatomy and physiology, which are essential components of massage therapy. Massage tutorials include learning about general body massage, Swedish massage, Indian head massage and aromatherapy massage, and hot stone massage.

Also covered is the business aspect of being a massage therapist, which will be beneficial for anyone looking to become self-employed once qualified.

Specialist Massage Schools

Independent massage schools exist across the UK and internationally, which you’ll need to learn more advanced techniques such as Thai, trigger point and pregnancy massage. Examples include The London School of Massage and Jing Advanced Massage Training.

If you are employed, your employer may pay for additional training for you. It’s worth expanding your repertoire as you’ll be able to command higher rates versus only carrying out general massage techniques.

What Degree Do You Need To Become A Massage Therapist

As massage therapy is considered a vocational career, it’s not possible to study a degree in the field directly. However, it is possible to gain a Masters degree in rehabilitation massage therapy. Such qualifications are ideal for those looking to work alongside athletes in particular.

Physiotherapists with a degree may also choose to gain qualifications in massage therapy. A huge advantage of this is that physiotherapy is all about helping the body to move better. Massage techniques such as trigger point therapy, deep tissue, sports massage and Swedish massage would be ideal to combine with any physio treatments you carry out.

In addition, those with a physiotherapy, chiropractic, or osteopathic degree, or graduates of sports science are eligible to undertake a BTEC in Clinical Sports & Remedial Massage.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Massage Therapist

That depends on whether you are taking a massage therapy course part time or full time. Part time, it can take anywhere from 16-52 weeks. Though the national average is around 6 months. Aside from the theory you need to learn, it’s also incredibly important to clock up as many hours as possible training on different models.

How To Train To Become A Sports Massage Therapist

Sports massage is a form of physical therapy and involves manipulating muscles and tissues. The aim is to reduce inflammation in the affected area and encourage recovery. There are two main routes you can go down to qualify as a sports massage therapist, depending on whether you want to work within a clinical setting or within a general beauty environment.

A degree in sports therapy will cover sports massage and is ideal for anyone looking to work with elite sports professionals such as football teams or even the Olympics.

Outside of this, it’s possible to get a Level 3 Diploma in Sports Massage Therapy, or a Level 4 Certificate in Sports Massage Therapy. Either qualification can be taken without the need for A-Levels or a degree. Though, you will be limited to working within a beauty environment, rather than high level sports.

Legal Requirements For Massage Therapist UK

The massage industry in the UK is unregulated, meaning anyone can technically call themselves a massage therapist. Of course, to ensure client satisfaction and career longevity, it’s worth going down the proper channels by undertaking an officially recognised qualification in massage therapy. Plus, getting yourself registered with CGMT.

If you plan on becoming self-employed, then you’ll need to register your business with HMRC. This includes submitting an annual self-assessment and paying any tax, stamp duty or VAT before the January 31st deadline. A good tip here is to get on top of your bookkeeping so that your accounts will be a lot more straightforward to submit.

On a local level, you may need to register your business with the local council. There are also rules and regulations for those running a business at home, which includes being liable for Capital Gains Tax if you own the property and eventually sell it.

Does A Massage Therapist Need Insurance?

If you own a facility that provides massages, or if you are self-employed, then you’ll need to take out insurance for massage therapists. The cover will include aspects such as public liability, treatment insurance, employers’ liability, tools and equipment insurance, personal accident insurance and vehicle insurance if applicable.

The above might seem like a hassle, but it will ensure you are protected in case a client has an accident on your premises. Or if the treatment you carry out injures your client, and they sue you due to lost earnings. Even with the best training in the world, there is always a risk something could go wrong, or that you become a victim of theft. Getting cover is straightforward and will give you peace of mind.

Special Requirements For Sports Massage Therapist

There are a lot of crossovers between traditional massage techniques and sports massage. However with any kind of massage intended for sportsmen and women, you need to factor in the exact movements they may carry out for that particular sport, and how it affects the muscles, tendons, joints etc.

For example, a footballer may get aches and pains in their legs. But for a javelin thrower, the aches would be more shoulder or back pain. It’s your job to help them move better so that they can ultimately excel at their chosen sport. If the athlete is professional, there is a lot of pressure on you to understand the mechanics, more so than general massage.

Special Requirements For Infants/Baby Massage

Unlike adults, babies are not going to come to you for a massage due to aches and pains they have sustained while working at a computer or on a building site. Instead, the focus is more on relaxing the child and helping parents to bond with their children.

Courses for infant massage can be completed in as little as 4 days, costing £495 to £650. There is also the chance to specialise in massage for babies who were born prematurely, which could be a very rewarding career.

Is Being A Massage Therapist Stressful

Given massage therapy is one of the rare professionals that involve creating a relaxing environment, it isn’t considered stressful. But like all jobs, there are pros and cons.

As we mentioned above, massage therapy can be taxing on your body, especially your arms and wrists. You are essentially working against the client's muscles, and if they are carrying a lot of tension, this will require a lot of physical effort to dislodge through plenty of effleurage and similar release techniques.

It’s recommended that massage therapists pay close attention to their own self-care to avoid burnout. This includes plenty of yoga, warm up exercises, icing joints and of course, regular massage! Ideally, massage therapists should get 1-2 massages a month to ensure they don’t succumb to any aches or pains that could threaten their earning potential.


Becoming a massage therapist is an incredibly rewarding career. With so many different massage types available, there are plenty of options to progress, whether you want to work in a spa or alongside top athletes.

The secret to a long career in massage is taking care of yourself, especially physical due to the repetitive nature of the job on your hands and wrists. This is why many massage therapists only work part time, though the good news is that your earnings will be covered by the high rates you are able to charge.

As more of us embrace self-care as a necessity rather than a luxury, expect to see a higher demand for massage in the coming years. This means for anyone looking to become qualified, it is a career with plenty of potential.

Rachael O'Flaherty

Rachael O’Flaherty is a freelance writer who graduated from Teesside University in 2012. Her background is in digital marketing and journalism, with a particular interest in money saving hacks. For more information, see Rachael's Linked In profile.