If you want to do well while making people feel good, a career as a massage therapist could be rewarding. Massage therapists play an important role in health and wellness, applying pressure to slash stress and cut the pain of muscle strains, knots and injuries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 71,040 massage therapists nationwide as of May 2012, and the agency forecasts a strong need for more: It predicts job growth of 20 percent from 2010 to 2020, thanks to growth in consumers and massage businesses, plus improvements in regulations and education.
Demographic trends should mean job opportunities. The population is aging, and as seniors live longer and more active lives, they’ll turn to massage to ease aches and pains. The number of older Americans is skyrocketing, with 10,000 baby boomers a day turning 65 between 2011 and 2030. Plus, the U.S. population is growing. The Census Bureau forecasts 439 million Americans in 2050, up from 309 million in 2010. What’s more, as employers increasingly focus on wellness perks, they’re adding in-office massages for employees. There’s a caveat, though. Because most consumers don’t consider massages an essential expense, hard economic times can cut into therapists’ client bases and incomes.
More massage businesses are opening, and that will mean added jobs. As a lower-cost alternative to spas and resorts, massage franchises and chains are growing especially quickly. Some franchises added hundreds of locations from 2002 to 2010. Also, doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists could give the field a shot in the arm through referrals. More than half of patients who discussed massage therapy with a doctor said the doctor strongly recommended it.
As massage therapy goes mainstream, the field should expand. In 2013, 44 states regulated or certified therapists, according to the American Massage Therapy Association. As states adopt industry standards, consumers are likelier to accept the practice as a treatment for pain. With increasing regulatory oversight, formal training programs have also flourished. The number of schools that offered more than 500 hours of training jumped from 647 in 2001 to 1,167 in 2008, and the average massage therapist had 633 hours of training as of 2009. Insurers may also help the field. Their average reimbursement for one hour of massage was $71 as of 2008, up from $56 in 2004, according to the Institute for Natural Therapies. Nearly two-thirds of therapists received their full rate from insurers.
The hiring outlook may be better in states and cities with above-average numbers of jobs in massage therapy. Hawaii had the highest concentration of massage therapy jobs as of May 2012, BLS numbers show. Rounding out the top five were Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Colorado. Among cities, Napa, California, posted the biggest concentration of massage therapists. Also in the top 10 were Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Olympia, Washington; Hot Springs, Arkansas; the West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Boynton Beach market in Florida; and Las Vegas.
To understand the future, it helps to know who’s hiring. About 60 percent of therapists worked for themselves as of 2010, either out of private offices or in clients’ homes, according to the BLS. Working solo has its pitfalls. Therapists averaged 17 hours a week on massages as of 2013, and more than half said they’d prefer more hours. Half of them supplement income with work in another field. Among therapists who worked for employers, 18 percent were in personal care services, such as spas and salons. Chiropractors’ offices employed 5 percent, while hotels and motels accounted for 4 percent. Two percent worked for fitness centers. By industry, the biggest employers of massage therapists were personal care services, doctors’ offices, traveler accommodations and amusement and recreation companies.