Why Americans Seek Massage

And What Keeps Them from Getting More

By Nora Brunner

Appreciation for the massage therapy experience has made new inroads with American consumers—one in six American adults sought out massage therapy in 2006—and more men and Midwesterners than ever are getting massaged. Especially encouraging for the future of massage is 62 percent of people aged 21 to 34 have very favorable to somewhat favorable views of massage therapists, with another 34 percent neutral in their views. These are key findings of a January Harstad Strategic Research survey sponsored by Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP).

An estimated 33.6 million American adults aged 21 or older received at least one massage in 2006, up nearly 9 million from the 2004 level. That represents growth from 12 percent in 2004 to 16 percent in 2006.

“Massage has grown in popularity and massage therapists continue to be highly regarded by their clients,” says Les Sweeney, nationally certified massage therapist and ABMP president. “The credit goes to massage therapists for their ability to communicate to clients what massage therapy has to offer.”

Why Americans Seek Massage

Most clients who get a massage seek relaxation and restoration (30 percent), need relief from pain or muscle soreness (29 percent), or have a massage because they received it as a gift (28 percent). Consumers also revealed the two most persuasive factors in prompting them to get a massage: the recommendation of a medical professional and the receipt of a gift certificate for massage.

The cost of massage was cited as the number one barrier to massage (underscoring that gift certificates make great gifts for friends and family). Industry experts speculate this may be because massage is often viewed as a luxury item rather than a health therapy vital to wellness. However, when considering the clinical research showing that the physical benefits of massage are exponential when clients receive regularly scheduled sessions, the cost for the benefit decreases each time. In addition, consumers can choose from a variety of massage experiences--ranging from an appointment with an independent practitioner working from their home office (often an economical option), to an appointment at a spa that includes the spa experience (and comes at a higher price point). (Click here to search for a massage practitioner in your area to meet your specific needs for your ideal massage experience.)

Other factors cited as obstacles to getting massaged include “lack of time/too busy” (31 percent) and “don’t need a massage” (24 percent). “This data indicates what most of us assume—people feel harried; all the more reason they need a massage,” Sweeney says.

Another finding was that while more Americans than ever have tried massage—nearly 40 percent of Americans have had at least one.

MTs Viewed as Respected Pracitioners

Americans again gave high praise to their massage experiences and expressed favorable feelings toward massage therapists in 2006. Ninety-four percent of those who had at least one massage in 2006 say they have favorable feelings toward massage therapists, with 69 percent expressing very favorable feelings. Among 2006 massage clients, fully 85 percent voiced very favorable feelings about their most recent massage, with 37 percent rating it a perfect ten out of ten.

“It gratifies me to see the level of acceptance of massage therapy,” Sweeney says. “Society has recognized what we have long known—therapists are competent, caring individuals who offer a valuable service to their clients.”

New Audiences

Two intriguing trends the research identified were more interest in massage both by men and by people living in the Midwest. This demonstrates the massage message is spreading and being favorably received in new segments of the population.

The jump in the number of men reporting massage use is substantial, an increase of 5.3 million men from 2004 to 2006, or growth from 8 percent of male adults to 13 percent.

The Midwest now rivals the traditional geographic leader—the American West—in consumer massage use, jumping six percentage points between 2004 and 2006 to 19 percent. In the West, 20 percent of consumers reported getting a massage in 2006. Fourteen percent of Northeasterners, and 12 percent of Southerners received a massage in 2006, both up slightly from 2004.

Massage as a Gift

Among women who have ever received a massage, 33 percent say the principal reason they got one was they received a gift certificate; that’s the case for only 19 percent of men. Perhaps somewhat correlated, women are more likely than men—36 percent compared to 22 percent—to have received their most recent massage in a spa setting. Massage is a prime example of a trend toward “experiential” gift giving other consumer research has revealed.

In a telling finding, half of men who are married or have a significant other think their loved one would appreciate the gift of professional massage “a great deal” or “quite a bit.” But women were far more confident—75 percent of those who have themselves tried massage say their close girlfriends would welcome massage as a gift.
“Despite this information, men’s interest in massage has increased,” Sweeney says. “This presents an educational and selling opportunity for therapists to let clients know their spouse wants one too.”

Parity With Other Services

Massage therapists continue to garner similar numbers in visits as chiropractors and physical therapists. As a finding that’s remained steady over several years, this continues to speak well of massage therapy services, which are paid primarily out of clients’ own pockets, yet hold their own against services that often have insurance-coverage incentives.

When asked which type of healthcare professionals they visited in 2006, 16 percent of respondents said massage therapists, 14 percent said chiropractors, and 13 percent said physical therapists.