Expect More, with Les: Massage Therapist Population Still Growing But Very Slowly

There are 328,799 massage therapists in the United States as of June 2016. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.

ABMP prepares a massage therapist population estimate every two years. In its first incarnation in 1998, the population estimate was more like a S.W.A.G. (look it up), but as regulation of the massage field became more widespread throughout the 90s and 00s, more concrete data appeared. With 45 states now regulating the practice of massage, the fact-gathering has become easier and more reliable. Here is a look at our estimates since 1998:

Based on our data, the size of the massage field has increased nearly 140 percent since 1998. While valuable to examine the long view to see how the field has grown, the most pertinent information taken from this year’s estimate is that the number of massage therapists is still actually growing. From what is heard in the field—and in particular through franchise massage retail establishments—there is a considerable dearth of massage therapists available for hire. The growth of the field has slowed considerably—as evidenced by the reduction in the number of graduates from massage programs each year (see The Shrinking Pie series, www.abmp.com/shrinking-pie2015.pdf). However, the number of therapists has continued to rise. But, as the chart displays, the rate of growth has practically disappeared—just a hair over 2.1 percent from our 2014 estimate, which in turn only grew 1.9 percent over 2012.

Building an estimate like this takes some time, primarily because the way it is built is through contacting each regulated state and finding out a current active licensee count, then ideally learning how many of those reside in the state in question (we try to avoid double-counting snowbirds and other dual-licensed folk); surprisingly, that reduces the total by nearly 8 percent.

We sum those totals to come up with our national estimate. Here’s a look at the state-by-state totals:

State State Population (000's) 2016 Practitioner Final Estimate

2016 Per Capita Estimate

AK 738 642 1,149.3
AL 4,858 1,743 2,787.5
AR 2,978 1,997 1,491.6
AZ 6,828 9,213 741.1
CA 39,144 52,534 745.1
CO 5,456 12,630 432.0
CT 3,590 4,627 775.9
DC 672 546 1,229.7
DE 945 1,143 827.0
FL 20,271 30,661 661.1
GA 10,214 6,273 1,628.1
HI 1,431 6,436 222.3
IA 3,123 2,721 1,147.6
ID 1,654 1,983 834.2
IL 12,859 10,772 1,193.7
IN 6,619 4,204 1,574.3
KS 2,911 1,573 1,850.6
KY 4,425 2,378 1,860.7
LA 4,670 2,171 2,150.7
MA 6,794 7,844 866.1
MD 6,006 3,919 1,532.6
ME 1,329 2,195 605.4
MI 9,922 8,339 1,189.9
MN 5,489 5,350 1,026.0
MO 6,083 4,640 1,311.0
MS 2,992 804 3,722.8
MT 1,032 1,523 677.5
NC 10,042 8,022 1,251.8
ND 757 682 1,109.3
NE 1,896 1,296 1,462.7
NH 1,330 1,943 684.5
NJ 8,958 7,994 1,120.6
NM 2,085 3,023 689.8
NV 2,890 3,881 744.6
NY 19,796 14,085 1,405.5
OH 11,613 11,007 1,055.1
OK 3,911 1,150 3,400.9
OR 4,029 6,750 596.9
PA 12,803 9,800 1,306.4
RI 1,056 1,050 1,006.0
SC 4,896 3,625 1,350.4
SD 858 743 1,155.6
TN 6,600 4,019 1,642.4
TX 27,469 28,176 974.9
UT 2,996 5,919 506.2
VA 8,382 6,269 1,337.0
VT 626 920 680.4
WA 7,170 12,968 552.9
WI 5,771 4,959 1,163.7
WV 1,844 966 1,908.9
WY 586 690 849.3
  321,397 328,799 977.5

The bolded states do not have statewide massage regulation. The Per Capita column shows how many state residents there are for each massage therapist; nationally there is one massage therapist for every 978 or so people. Where is the largest concentration of massage therapists? Hawaii—why not? Might as well provide bliss in paradise. The smallest concentration? Mississippi. Opportunity knocks! Those nearly 3 million Mississippians need their massage.

Is this an exact total, accurate to the penny? Absolutely not. Is it a decent number that has been determined through a reasonable process? You bet.

And in two years, it might get a little bit better. And we’ll see if it continues to go up.

—Les Sweeney, BCMTB, is president of Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. 




Les, I appreciate you providing the information on the growth of the MT industry. I have been practicing over 30 years, the past 7 years working for a large health system as a traveling hospice massage therapist. When I graduated from MT school, I was hoping to do something in mainstream health care as I am now. It has taken a long time for the times to catch up to my hopes and dreams for the massage industry. I gave benefits, make a livable wage, and have paid time off. My service is free to our hospice patients. Whereas I am paid from foundational giving. People need to have health insurance and time off and a decent balance of time, money, and effort. Most massage therapists do not have that " luxury." Until the insurance companies compensate for MT services, I don't see how the profession can continue to grow. We will always have those loving therapists who do it for the good of the world and struggle financially. But it's not a practical career choice at this time. And that truly breaks my heart. Maybe we can start initiating some not-for-profit massage business. Something to consider thinking about. Thanks for all the help you give all of us.  

Great info, as always. Thanks Les!

I find it interesting and maybe a little ironic that massage franchises think there is a shortage of massage therapists! Franchises typically pay half what a spa or massage clinic pays their therapists. There is no shortage of qualified massage therapists at all; there is a shortage of therapists who are able and willing to work back-to-back appointments for substandard pay. If fewer people are entering the field, it is because what was once a decent paying job is now often a low paying job with no chance of improving income or advancing career. People deserve fair compensation and a job that pays a living wage, not a subsistence wage. Franchises have also contributed to industry-wide poor working conditions: overwork, job related injury, and burnout. Just my opinion anyway.

And Colorado is #2 for bliss in paradise. Just a different kind of paradise. Thank you for the report, very valuable.

The figures are sensible, but how about the growing demand for massage? That is the other factor that should be factored in here. From an educators perspective we have employers who are still short handed... no pun intended!


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