In this 24/7 world, stress reigns. That's why there's never been a better time to become a massage therapist. All those stressed-out bods with tense muscles and jittery nerves need calming.
There are currently 145,000 massage therapists in the United States, according to Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP). And that number is on the rise. "The field has been growing exponentially for the past 15 years, and there's no sign it's slowing," says Steve Olsen, a massage therapist in Fargo, North Dakota, who is also spokesman for the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).
Massage is now a $4 billion industry, making it an important segment of alternative health care. "More people are embracing massage as a way to maintain and improve their health," notes Steve Hirsch of Natural Healers, a resource for prospective students of alternative medicine schools based in Seattle.
That's precisely why Tara Lewis, 27, of Easton, Maryland, got into massage. "People's views of health are changing, and massage is a big part of alternative therapies," she says. Lewis, mother of a 3-year-old, opened her business last year when her daughter started preschool. "Massage is something I can work around her schedule," she explains.
Flexibility is a major draw. Not only can therapists make their own hours, but there's also a myriad of settings where they can practice: from home or from an office; through a hotel, spa, hospital or health club; and in high-traffic areas, such as airports. Darren Main, 29, a massage therapist in San Francisco, tried most settings before finding his niche, working from home. "And I don't make house calls," he says, noting the difficulty he had when he used to navigate San Francisco's notoriously steep streets with his massage table.
Scott Clark, also 29, works from an office across from a hospital in Houston. It's a setting that suits his pain-management-focused practice, one he developed in an unexpected way. On the road to becoming a chiropractor, Clark found himself attracted to massage and decided to trade back-cracking for back-rubbing. "I got an incredible reception from people immediately," he says. "They'd crawl in and then walk out happy."