The Future of Massage Therapy
Consumer research shows Americans who have tried massage have overwhelmingly positive feelings about their experience. Since the 1980s, the profession has seen dramatic growth in the acceptance and use of massage, increasingly across age, gender, economic and ethnic boundaries.
As an August 2005 issue of Consumer Reports declares, “Alternative medicine has come of age.” Consumer Reports cites deep-tissue massage as one of the remedies most effective as voted by readers for back pain, arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. In addition to being enthusiastic users of alternative medicine, subscribers of Consumer Reports are older, wealthier and well educated.
Among the positive wave of response was the information that 14 percent of U.S. adults visited a massage therapist in 2008 and 42 percent have received a professional massage sometime in their life.
Americans report overwhelmingly positive feelings about their massage experiences. Eighty-five percent express favorable feelings toward massage therapists, with 69 percent expressing very favorable feelings. Among 2009 massage clients, fully 77 percent voiced very favorable feelings about their most recent massage, with 44 percent rating it a perfect ten-out-of-ten.
For the adults who visited a massage therapist in 2009, the average number of visits was 3.5. This use level puts massage on par with consumer use of chiropractic and physical-therapy services.
There are three primary reasons people seek massage, each representing about a third of all massages delivered. Most seek relaxation and restoration (34 percent), need relief from pain or muscle soreness (31 percent), or have a massage because they received it as a gift (27 percent). Recommendations by medical professionals and receiving gift certificates are primary factors in consumers choosing to get a massage.
In 2009, 2 percent of consumers who had a massage went 21 times or more to a therapist. Similar to prior studies, 32 percent had just one massage in 2009 and 5 percent had 11–20 sessions. So 7 percent of all clients had 11 or more massages last year (2009). Five percent received 6–10 sessions; 35 percent had 3–5 sessions; and 21 percent had just two sessions.
The increasing popularity of massage as a personal service and health option present a positive financial future for those in the field. There is continually greater acceptance of massage by other healthcare professionals as a viable and valuable healthcare modality. Concurrently, those with ailments wanting other healthcare options are increasingly looking to massage. The number of consumers seeking massage as a personal care service is expanding. The options and potentials for those wanting to practice massage are extremely high.
Consumer demand for these services, and their recognition as legitimate medical expenses, seems likely to drive practitioners and insurers closer together, along with competitive pressure on employers to attract and retain staff.
As a growing profession that is gaining respect among other healthcare providers, it behooves us to continue to work toward improving overall educational quality. Superior training is a financial advantage to practitioners and educational institutions.
"Looking at a snapshot of our field is like watching a river that passes before us moving from the past to the future. The water is different from day to day, but it remains the same river. While tomorrow’s massage therapy field will be filled with different individuals and experiences, it will remain the same magnificent field we are all so fortunate to be a part of today."
(quote by Whitney Lowe is a recognized authority on pain and injury treatment with massage therapy. His contributions to the massage field are wide ranging and include extensive research, professional publications, teaching, clinical work, consulting, and participation in national boards and committees. He is the author of the books Orthopedic Assessment in Massage Therapy (Daviau-Scott, 2006) and Orthopedic Massage: Theory and Technique (Mosby, 2003), which are used in training programs and schools nationally and internationally. In 1994 he founded the Orthopedic Massage Education & Research Institute (OMERI) to provide massage therapists the advanced education they would need for treating orthopedic soft-tissue disorders.