With all the talk of a labor shortage in the massage and spa markets, are we overlooking an important demographic? I’m referring to people in or approaching their senior years. The U.S. population is aging, and massage therapy is a great career for those 50 and older.
According to the most recent U.S. census, the age-65-plus group was the fastest growing between 2010 and 2021, with its population increasing 38%. Currently 30% of massage therapists are between 30 and 40 years old and 53% of massage therapists are over 40 years old. By 2024, one in four massage therapists will be older than age 55, if they stay in the massage field.
About 23,000 openings for massage therapists are projected each year. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire. With a flexible schedule and part-time work, I believe massage therapy can be a great career for therapists for those well past the typical retirement age.
Massage therapist Ed Mohr, 69 of Lake Orion Michigan is an example of someone working into his advanced years. He works at a LaVida Massage franchise location, after 33 years in the corporate world.
There are advantages to being more mature as a massage therapist. The 50-and-older workforce is typically seeking a part-time schedule that is less physically tasking. That, plus the controlled physical activity of massage and the social interaction that can come from working as a massage employee, are all big plusses for this demographic.
Massage therapist Christine N. Costianes, 67, Indianapolis Indiana, is another example of a successful, part-time, older therapist. She works for Franciscan Health in Indiana, seven days a month, on the second, third and fourth Tuesday and Wednesday, plus one Saturday.
She says her schedule allows her a vacation from work of about two weeks out of every month. ”I love it,” Costianes said. “It’s all I need. My schedule is all regular clients who have standing appointments for the whole year.”
Knowledge, Experience & Evolution
Being in the over-50-year-old demographic myself, at 69 years old, I can personally attest to the knowledge and experience gained over a half century of living during a time of accelerated change, challenges and advancements in technology.
My massage therapy career of over 45 years has changed as I have aged. I always worked full time as a massage therapist. As a single mother for many years, my massage therapy business was our sole source of income. Even after opening a massage therapy school and becoming a textbook author, I worked a full-time massage therapy schedule. For many of those years my clients were professional athletes.
I worked full time until age 60 and then reduced my schedule to part time.
As I have aged, I have noticed changes in my stamina. Today I do not want to work with 300-pound NFL linemen. I only see long-term clients who are often retired athletes.
My kids are grown, and my income from multiple streams fits my modest lifestyle. Personal experiences of the past influence the confidence I have in recommending massage therapy as a career for those age 50-plus.
Many employers now seeking mature workers. A Department of Labor study found that older workers are more likely to remain in a position over the long term. Out of all age groups, workers over the age of 55 demonstrate the highest levels of positive engagement on the job.
Employment as a massage therapist is practical for this demographic. Typically, the economic goal is supplemental income. The main goal is to be of service and help others. As an employee there is no pressure to build a business. It is possible and desirable to work part-time. Employers will be accommodating if the intentions are clear.
I love my older crew. [They are] reliable, knowledgeable and stable with where they are in life,” said Ezralea Robbins, CEO, at Mountainside Spa and Spa owner-director at Ezralea Inc. Day Spa Management & Consulting in Holladay, Utah. “The older peeps rock! When I find second-career people in the 45-plus age, they grow roots and are content.”
Certainly, it is possible to be self-employed as an older massage therapist as well. This population has life experiences that can support business development.
“I’m a 66-year-old retired landscape contractor turned MT, [and] I can’t think of a more satisfying retirement career,” said Cynthia Curlin-Barrett, a self-employed massage therapist practicing in Memphis, Tennessee.
Health Span Versus Life Span
The 50-plus age group is creating their own future. This population is choosing to focus on their health span instead of their life span.
Health span is how long an individual can function independently and enjoy life comfortably in an environment they choose. That’s why as we grow older, the choices we make regarding our lifestyle become even more important. Age-related changes in stamina, strength or sensory perception do occur.
Generally, information processing slows as we grow older, and older people have more trouble multitasking. Much of the literature involving quality aging recommends remaining mentally engaged, learning new things, being physical activity, managing stress and being involve in positive social interaction. Becoming a massage therapist and working as a massage therapist can achieve all these recommendations.
Are You Considering a New Career?
These pointers are for anyone considering a career in massage:
• Focus on learning foundational therapeutic massage.
• Initially avoid incorporation of multiple forms and styles of massage and bodywork, as that can be confusing.
• Learn and practice efficient body mechanics that use efficiency of movement rather than all the “fancy” stuff.
• Use a hydraulic/electric lift table and adjust height to support efficient movement.
• Avoid using massage approaches that involve extensive, aggressively focused deep pressure.
• Modulate your massage therapy work schedule to best fit individual stamina and life style.
• Choose the work environment that best supports you and work with people who respect you.
• Choose the clients who best reflect your individual skill set, stamina, physical ability and passion to serve.
Reshaping Future Careers
There are certainly young people—and by that I mean ages 18 through 40—entering massage school. Those are the future massage therapists and leaders of our massage organizations.
Yet, as the U.S. population, which includes many of today’s practicing massage therapists, continues to grow older, it is worth the time on the part of both therapists and employers of massage therapists to consider how a massage career can be reshaped to fit a person’s future.
About the Author
Sandy Fritz is a founding member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education and the author of massage textbooks including “Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage”; “Mosby’s Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage: Anatomy, Physiology, Biomechanics, and Pathology”; and “Sports & Exercise Massage: Comprehensive Care for Athletics, Fitness, & Rehabilitation.” Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Old Myths Die Hard: The Truth About Toxins,” and “The Massage Profession Needs to Face the Future—United.”