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The Business of Massage

Published on November 29, 2011 by

Almost every city street in the United States, and a good many of the shopping malls dotting the streets of suburbia, plays host to at least one business offering massage. While there used to be a social stigma tied to “massage parlors,” and people often assumed they were thinly-disguised houses of prostitution, the reality is that massage therapy is one of the fastest-growing fields of employment in modern America, and day spas, massage studios, and health clinics are filled with people from all walks of life who want massages in order to relax, to improve their circulation, to help with neck, shoulder, and back pain, or for a myriad of other health reasons.

Statistics about Massage Therapy as a Field of Employment

Just how popular are massage therapy jobs? Consider this: according to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 122,400 therapists registered with state or federal business offices in 2008. At that time, it was projected that over the next ten years, that number would increase by 19%, for a total of 145,600 massage therapists at work in the U.S. by 2018. This would make massage therapy one of the fastest-growing occupations in the world.

Massage therapy isn’t merely popular, however, it’s also lucrative. Information from the AMTA (the American Massage Therapy Association) reveals that 2005 predictions placed it at a $6-11 billion per year industry. 2010 estimates revised that number, showing it had grown to bring in $12-17 billion a year, with the likelihood of even more growth. AMTA also estimates that there are currently between 280,000 – 320,000 working therapists and massage therapy students in the United States.

Despite all this, massage therapy is not immune to fluctuations in the American economy. The projected 19% increase (by 2018) in employment mentioned above is actually a full percentage point lower than the Department of Labor’s 2006 forecast, and while there were about 48 million American adults who received at least one massage between July 2009, and July, 2010, this represents a decrease in massages by 4% from the previous year’s tally. Nevertheless, most people recognize the importance of massage therapy in their health and wellness plans, and cite the poor economy as the reason they might not have had a massage over the last year.

Is Massage Therapy the Right Career for You?

Obviously there’s a reason so many people are moving into the field of massage therapy. For one thing, the average annual income last year, for a therapist who provided roughly 15 hours of therapy per week, was $31,980 (including tips) and the money is just one factor. Other conditions that make massage therapy an ideal job, especially for women, are:

  • Great option for people who want to work part time.
  • Can easily be a mobile or work-from-home career.
  • Doesn’t require an expensive high-end corporate wardrobe.

Who Are Today’s Massage Therapists?

Massage therapy may seem like great part time job, but are people really doing it part time? Here’s a picture of the average American massage therapist, according to AMTA’s information:

  • She’s self-employed. 65% of all massage therapists are sole practitioners.
  • This isn’t her original career. Almost three quarters (73%) of massage therapists began practicing therapy as a second career.
  • She may still have another job. Roughly half (57%) of all practicing therapists maintain another career.
  • Body work is a common connection. 23% of therapists work do some other kind of bodywork as a second job, and 18% work in health care.

By the numbers, then, it’s easy to see that massage therapy is a reliable form of health and wellness care, that it pays reasonably well, and that many people do it as a second career. The numbers for 2011 have not yet been published, but it seems clear that in terms of people and money, this field is continuing to expand.

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