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Massage Today
March, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 03

Practice Patterns: Where Do You Stand?

By Peter W. Crownfield

Consumer use of massage therapy is no secret, not after the landmark study on complementary and alternative medicine by David Eisenberg, et al.1, and the annual surveys from the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).2 The Eisenberg study asserted that Americans make an estimated 114 million visits to massage therapists annually, spending $4.5-6.8 billion on such visits.

The latest AMTA survey revealed, among other trends of note, that 16% of adult Americans reported receiving one or more massages in the year 2000, and 21% expected to schedule a massage in the next 12 months.

But what about trends among massage therapists themselves? A recent study3 published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine may help answer that question.

The study focused on practice patterns among massage therapists in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area. One hundred and twenty-six practices were randomly selected from the Yellow Pages to serve as the study cohort. Researchers sought to determine practitioner demographics, training, practice characteristics, and fees.

A three-page questionnaire was mailed to 150 massage therapists, with a second questionnaire sent one month later. Three months after the second mailing, all subjects were contacted by phone for follow-up. The questionnaires focused on demographics; age; race; gender; professional status; education; massage training; society memberships; practice characteristics; fees and insurance; and other variables. Specific results are presented as follows:

  • The average age of a Boston-area massage therapist is 41. Most LMTs are Caucasian (95%) and female (80%).
  • In terms of education, each practitioner has approximately 1,000 hours of training in massage therapy. Nearly half of those taking the survey (49%) have earned a bachelor's degree in addition to their massage training. Five percent of the practitioners are also licensed acupuncturists; another five percent hold a nursing degree.
  • A majority of massage therapists (59%) work in a group practice, either with other licensed massage therapists, acupuncturists, psychologists, estheticians, or yoga practitioners. Twelve percent provide services in hospitals or nursing homes; 13% practice in a health maintenance organization.
  • The most common technique practiced is Swedish massage; 90% of the respondents reported using it. More than half of the respondents practice trigger point massage, sports massage, myofascial release or aromatherapy.
  • Massage therapists see an average of 20 patients per week. An initial patient visit lasts approximately 61 minutes and costs $63; followup visits average 51 minutes.
  • Approximately half of the respondents offer sliding scales for their fees. Ninety-five percent of patients pay those fees out-of-pocket.
  • Although more than two-thirds of massage therapists report seeing pediatric patients in their practice, the number they actually treat appears to be quite low. On average, respondents reported seeing only one patient per week less than 21 years old.

Some limitations were noted in the study, the most obvious being that the survey was limited to practitioners in the Boston area. In addition, only 82 LMTs completed the survey - a relatively low number compared to the tens of thousands of licensed massage therapists in the U.S. This small number led the investigators to admit that the data "may not accurately represent the entire massage community."

Despite these limitations, the JACM survey represents an important step forward in learning about the practice patterns of massage therapists in the United States. The survey also shows that as the popularity of complementary and alternative medicine continues to increase, so will the role of massage therapy in the promotion of health and wellness for patients of all ages.


  1. Eisenberg DM, Davis RB, Ettner SL, et al. Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States, 1990-1997. Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 11, 1998:280(18), pp1569-75.
  2. See "AMTA Consumer Survey Reveals Trends in Massage," Massage Today, Jan. 2001:1(1), pg1.
  3. Lee ACC, Kemper KJ. Practice patterns of massage therapists. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2000:6(6), pp527-29.


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