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Massage Today
September, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 09

The Wide-Open World of Massage Therapy

By Linda Riach

In this helter-skelter world, stress reigns. With so many tense and jittery folks seeking help, there's never been a better time to be a massage therapist. According to the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP), there now are almost 200,000 massage therapists in the United States, and more than 50,000 people are entering the field each year.

Massage is over a $5 billion-a-year industry and has become such an important segment in the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) arena that massage therapists are its largest professional group, followed by chiropractors.

Much of this growth is attributable to significant changes in consumers' perception of the industry. Through its annual market surveys, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) discovered that only about 25% of Americans had ever experienced a massage from a massage therapist in 1999. By 2004, that number had almost doubled to 49%, and there is every indication the growth will continue for years to come.

With such explosive growth in the industry, massage therapists have more career choices today than ever. According to the AMTA, while the vast majority (84%) of massage practitioners continue to provide services in an independent setting, such as their offices or on location, considerable growth in massage is taking place in spas, salons, health & athletic clubs, hotels and resorts. And with the rapid emergence of CAM and medical spas, a growing number of massage therapists can be found working alongside medical doctors and other professionals in their offices or in hospitals. With such a plethora of choices available, many wonder what factors they should consider when deciding on a massage therapy career. A good place to start might be to assess why you decided to pursue massage therapy in the first place.

If you view massage therapy as a way to help people relax and reduce stress, you might consider working for a resort, spa or upscale hotel, where guests have massage therapy available as a means of stress-reduction. According to ABMP, massage therapy generates over 60% of such a facility's total revenue; therefore, as more resorts, spas and hotels open, massage therapists will be in greater demand. Visitors to these facilities often seek such techniques as Swedish and Thai massage and shiatsu, thus providing diversification to your practice.

If you identify with the growing acceptance of CAM, you are committed to the notion that massage therapy can help relieve pain and restore function from injuries that may previously have required surgery or other invasive procedures. In the most recent national survey by the AMTA, 91% of respondents agreed that massage is effective in reducing pain. Chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists and other practitioners of alternative medical care often recommend massage therapy treatment for acute or chronic conditions. In-depth knowledge of anatomy, science and pathology will enable you to apply such techniques as myofascial massage, shiatsu, and deep-tissue massage for clients' improved health and healing.

Over the past several years, our society has become increasingly more exercise-conscious, leaving both amateur and professional athletes in pain due to overuse conditions or injury. Passage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Title IX has brought an unprecedented number of women to the training room for treatment, thus requiring more trained therapists. According to Myles Brand, president of the NCAA, "In 1972, fewer than 30,000 women were participating in sports. Today, nearly 150,000 women are competing in sports at NCAA member institutions." And with the growth of sports programs in high schools, as well as in colleges and universities, many more massage therapists are being hired to keep their athletes healthy, limber and able to play. So, whether your clients are weekend warriors, scholars or professional athletes, the invaluable services you will provide might include sports massage, deep-tissue massage, myofascial release and/or hydrotherapy.

Thought of as an "enlightened" pursuit for years, massage in the workplace is being offered by more companies today than ever, primarily because an increasing number of them have found on-site massage to be a low-cost benefit with a high payoff. (So says ABMP in a recent survey.) With the growth in corporate massages comes an even greater opportunity for massage therapists. Having a massage therapist visit the workplace has become a real plus for employers wanting to attract new people and retain existing staff. It also has become a terrific source of business for the proactive massage therapist.

The rapidly widening acceptance of massage therapy in almost all corners of our environment means your career choices are limited only by your imagination. I've described a few options you might consider, but I also suggest you keep another thought or two in mind. Many massage therapists do not confine themselves to just one setting. Many therapists who work in resorts, spas and other places with large, established practices, do so part-time while they develop their own independent practices. That's the approach taken by many who are just getting started. Then there are those who look upon massage therapy as a part-time career. They have other jobs, but enjoy providing their healing touch in their spare time. So, there is no "right way" to pursue your career in massage therapy. It totally depends on your other interests and how much of your life you choose to devote to it.


Previous articles, a "Talk Back" forum and a brief biography of Linda Riach are available online at www.massagetoday.com/columnists/riach.


Click here for previous articles by Linda Riach.

 

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