Massage Therapy and Physical Therapy: A Comparison

Massage therapists and physical therapists are both concerned with the muscular system of the body. Both may receive training in anatomy and physiology, as well as kinesiology. And both may identify problems with a client's muscles during treatment.

The similarities, however, end there. Massage therapists use touch to manipulate muscles for stress reduction, pain relief, injury rehabilitation, and more. Physical therapists diagnose and treat physical ailments that limit movement using a variety of tools and equipment. The careers are quite distinct in practice, and each has markedly different training requirements. Check out a side-by-side comparison of the two professions to decide which is right for you.

Massage Therapy

Physical Therapy

Educational requirements:

Forty-three states regulate massage therapy. Licensing requirements range from none to 1,000+ hours of training through a state-certified program and passing of the National Certification Examination.


Physical therapists need a master's or Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) from an accredited program. State licensure is required to practice.

Availability of online degrees + certification:

Online massage certification is available through several schools, and can be a good option for those who already have some experience with massage.

At present, online physical therapy certification is not available. Online physical therapy school is generally only available for "transitioners"--that is, licensed physical therapists who want to obtain a DPT.


Program cost:

Tuition typically ranges from $2,500 at a community college to $10,000 at a private school. An online massage school may offer lower tuition rates.

The cost of a DPT generally ranges from $45,000 to $60,000, while a master's degree may cost somewhat less.


Time frame:

Some schools offer a diploma in as little as a few months, although 1-2 years is most common.

A master's degree typically takes 2 to 2-and-a-half years, while a DPT takes 3 years to complete.



Many massage therapists work part time in private offices, studios, nursing homes, fitness centers, chiropractic care centers, sports facilities, airports, and out of clients' homes, among other venues.

Physical therapists are likely to work full time in hospitals, outpatient clinics, home health care services, nursing care facilities, and private offices that are specially equipped.


Future job growth:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment growth of 19 percent from 2008 to 2018.


Employment is expected to grow 30 percent from 2008 to 2018.

Earning potential:

In 2009, the mean annual wage of massage therapists was $39,780.

In 2009, the mean annual wage of physical therapists was $76,220.


In earning potential and future job growth, physical therapy comes out ahead. But for shorter time-to-degree, lower education cost, and availability of online massage certification, massage therapy may be your career of choice.

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