We have, individually and collectively, undergone many changes over the past almost-two years. Standing on the edge of 2022, we can clearly see the general public embracing big changes—shifts in mindset, health care consumption and ways of coping with stressors among them—that can inform your massage practice and the way you interact with clients.
Here are 22 trends in areas directly related to both massage therapy and the larger society. Becoming aware of trends will help you understand what today’s clients are dealing with and adopt new ways of taking care of your practice.
1. The Return to Massage
Many people spent 12-plus months isolated from most other human beings, putting into high relief the need for nurturing touch. The mainstream press ran with this topic, explaining touch’s stress-relieving and immune-system-supporting benefits. Terms like “touch hunger” and “touch starvation” entered the public conversation. And, after what seemed like forever, massage clients returned. According to a how’s-your business-going poll we just ran, most of MASSAGE Magazine’s Facebook audience checked off the option of “I have more business/inquiries than I can handle.” But throughout the pandemic, mandatory shutdowns across the country presented huge challenges to most small-business owners. Many of you had to find new ways of doing business—from learning new skills to creating passive income and taking advantage of the many federal financial assistance programs. Massage therapist Dawn Melvin Ramsden, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, sums it up: “I continue to work with business
mentors and coaches to grow my business with new strategies and the results are showing. I began to diversify revenue streams last year by accepting personal injury cases and now expanding to working with veterans through the VA. I was able to hire two part-time therapists and an administrative assistant last year and the Paycheck Protection Program loan helped me get to where I am today.”
We all want to reverse climate change—especially your millennial and Gen Z customers—and some will make scheduling decisions based, at least in part, on a business’s commitment to sustainability. “Consumers care more about their carbon footprint in everything they do, from clothing to beverages to beauty products,” says Hector Gutierrez, CEO of JOI. “That means every sustainability move a company makes—with real, trackable, tangible results—is going to matter more than ever before. It’s no longer enough to talk about it; you have to show the results.” In fact, many consumers believe brands bear as much responsibility for positive environmental change as do governments, according to the World Economic Forum.
3. Zoom Face
We are all online now, meeting with colleagues, friends and crafting groups, or presenting at and attending conferences and board meetings. Along with the uptick in online meetings—in 2020 alone, Zoom’s business grew by 470.33%—has come increased self-awareness of one’s appearance, termed Zoom Face, and resulting growth in facial cosmetic procedures, from nose reshaping and eyelid surgery to facelifts and fillers. “The use of video teleconferencing apps like Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet, all allow us to see ourselves much more frequently than we used to,” says cosmetic surgeon P. Daniel Ward, MD, whose practice is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. “This prompted many of us to be bothered by certain features of our face, such as an overly prominent nasal tip, a bump on the nose, droopy eyelids, saggy cheeks, saggy jawline, saggy neck.” Why would this matter to massage therapists? Cosmetic surgeons are well aware of the postsurgical benefits of lymph massage and refer to massage therapists accordingly. “One of the most frustrating aspects of recovery from surgery is the swelling that occurs, Ward says. “The lymphatic system is, of course, vitally important for resolution of swelling. I am a big believer in lymphatic massage as a way to help accelerate the recovery after surgical procedures.”
4. Virtual Conferences
Conferences are increasingly online, meaning you can connect with and learn from colleagues and experts from your sofa or home office. (We know, it’s not the same as greeting friends with a hug, but you can attend more meetings and save on travel costs with virtual conferences.) “Virtual conferences provide an enormous benefit to the massage industry,” says Jeanette Falu-Bishop, host of the virtual The Massage Conference Live held in late 2021. “Attendees get access to multiple resources at the touch of a keypad. Virtual conferences are the wave of the future in all industries and could catapult professional growth into a new era.”
5. Critical Thinking
Massage therapists are being encouraged to embrace critical thinking—the antithesis of blind belief in unproven theories, aka magical thinking (“chakra balancing must be real!”)—by educators and colleagues who want to elevate the field’s standing as a form of health care. “At the heart of critical thinking is the discipline of learning to question,” says Douglas Nelson, LMT, BCMTB, immediate past president of the Massage Therapy Foundation. “Over the years, I have learned that the first perspectives to question are my own opinions and ideas. Many, if not most, of the poor decisions I have made in the past came from not knowing what I did not know. In those cases, my confidence was greater than my competence—and nothing builds confidence like lack of knowledge.” Learning to think critically can be uncomfortable and difficult, but it’s worth it, adds educator Jason Erickson, BCTMB, CPT. “It helps you recognize and debunk misinformation, improves your massage skills and client education, and you find it easier to understand how to help people with a wide range of challenges.” Development of critical thinking skills, he says, should be a key aspect of every massage therapy core curriculum and CE class.
6. Keeping Up with Inflation
The cost of massage lubricants, linens, rent—along with food, gasoline and just about everything else—keeps going up. At the end of 2021, inflation had hit a 30-year high, according to business news and forecaster Kiplinger. Instead of bemoaning this, raise your rates to keep pace. This is how massage therapist Jelina Howard of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, does it: “Raising prices by 3% every other year, or every three years, is a standard and conservative way to raise your rates and not sticker-shock your clients.” Massage therapist Shannon Kircher of Marathon, Florida, says: “We are raising our rates due to an increase in rent, utilities, and linen services. Plus, it’s been three years since our last price increase. Everything is getting more expensive. Clients understand and are willing to pay. The resort spa prices in our area are about 30% to 40% higher than us. [With] 21 years’ experience, we have no problem giving ourselves a raise.”
7. Mental Health
A new survey on mental health from the You-Gov Cambridge Globalism Project shows that 53% of American women said their working life has become more stressful due to the pandemic, 50% of people in the U.S. ages 18 to 24 say the pandemic has badly affected their mental health, and just 43% of the overall U.S. population say they feel optimistic for the future. High-profile athletes (Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles) and others are being honest about struggles with mental health—and although massage is not a replacement for mental health care and referrals should be made as needed, massage therapy has been found by researchers to decrease anxiety and depression while boosting feel-good hormones like oxytocin.
8. The Spa Employment Crunch
According to the International Spa Association’s 2021 ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study, consumer demand for spa services is up, but staffing of key positions, including massage, is way, way down: More than 36,000 service providers down. If you ever considered working in a spa, now might be the time to make that move. One innovative staffing solution, Spa Space, has grown more than 100% over the past few months, with over 1,000 service providers now signed up. The platform matches workers with open spa treatment rooms—so you can enjoy working in a spa environment while holding onto your independence.
What will keep you focused on the present moment rather than freaked out about the future? Mindfulness, a practice developed through meditation, breathwork and remembering to be here now. Mindfulness has been seen as an antidote to modern stressors for many years—but has taken on a larger significance due to the pandemic, political strife and growing unease about what may come. “The almost unfathomable upheavals of the global pandemic have been an ongoing reminder of the fragility of our lives; we have felt, again and again, how hopes and plans and expectations can be dashed without warning,” says educator and author David M. Lobenstine, LMT. “As a result, the gift that mindfulness gives—a reminder to remain in the present moment—is more valuable than ever.” Practicing mindfulness during a massage session can be particularly powerful, he adds. “When we become aware of the rise and fall of our own breath—when we notice our wandering thoughts without judgement and bring our attention back to the next exhalation—then we provide a template for the client to do the same and feel more at ease in their own body and brain and breath.”
10. The U.S. Sleep Deficit
Thirty percent of U.S. adults now suffer from insomnia and 10% suffer from chronic insomnia, according to the American Sleep Association, a trend that won’t be put to bed soon. “The past couple of years knocked millions of people out of the routines they’d grown used to,” says Certified Sleep Science Coach Stephen Light. “With all of the extra hours at home and with routines thrown out of whack, sleep schedules suffered.” The drastic rise in average screen time—especially before bed—threw a wrench into sleep hygiene, among other behaviors, Light says. “Stress rose alongside the uncertainty and upheaval in our world, which certainly didn’t help anyone get a good night’s sleep either.” And what is great for stress relief and self-connection? Massage, of course.
11. Wellness as a Superpower
People are realizing the importance of prioritizing their health—in large part to create resistance to viruses including COVID-19 and flu—fueling increased interest in physical fitness, lessened stress, healthy nutrition and a strengthened immune system (altogether, wellness). “When so much feels out of our control, it’s important to focus on what we can control, says Nicholas Vasiliou of BioHealth Nutrition. “Many consumers are noting that and taking back control of their diets and exercise regimens.” According to MINDBODY’s 2021 Wellness Index, a survey of U.S. consumers, people are embracing wellness for several reasons: 62% of respondents said they are doing so to reduce stress, while 60% said “the pandemic has made me realize that I need to be healthier to withstand disease/illness.” Massage therapists can tap into the wellness trend by marketing healthy touch as a component of preventative health and well-being. More specifically: massage therapy relieves pain, and pain can have a significant immunosuppressive effect on the human body.
12. Remote Work
Millions of Americans now work from home. A 2021 study from Mercer found that 70% of companies plan to adopt a hybrid model of work, and a FlexJobs survey found that almost 60% of employees want to work remotely all the time. To find out what that trend could meant for your massage practice, read “Chair Massage Success in the New Normal: This is How the Coronavirus has Changed Things (And What Will Stay the Same.)”
13. The Push for Diversity & Inclusion
When it comes to patronizing businesses, U.S. consumers increasingly prioritize those that show a commitment to diversity—making diversity not only an ethical choice, but one that is good for your bottom line. The people seeking massage experiences come from various cultures, ethnicities, religions, gender identification, locations and age groups, explains spa educator Sherrie Tennessee. “As there is diversity in massage clients, the same should and needs to be reflected in the massage therapists providing those experiences,” she says. Yet just 8% of massage therapists are Black professionals compared with 64% of practitioners being white, for example. One group working to grow diversity and inclusion in the massage and spa field is the Network of Multicultural Spa and Wellness Professionals, founded and led by Toshiana Baker. NMSWP is dedicated to the education, support and growth of underrepresented and marginalized spa and wellness professionals. Diversity, Baker says, is essential to the continued evolution of the massage industry—and inclusion, which is the feeling of belonging and active initiatives to support belonging instead of performative and superficial initiatives, is just as important. “These initiatives need to be implemented from the student-level experience all the way to top executive leadership roles in order to truly be the change we desperately need to see,” explains Baker. “It has been very exciting and refreshing to see many members of our profession come together in dedication to this cause, however, we have a way to go to get every stakeholder at every level genuinely invested in these initiatives for the long-term.” We know that mental health and well-being are already challenged in these times of uncertainty, says Baker, adding, “imagine the effect of [perceived] inadequacy, rejection and not belonging on top of it.”
14. Touchless Treatments
During 2020, spas and franchises implemented no-touch treatments to reduce stress while accommodating customers’ fear of close contact. Many of those treatments are raking in big bucks at large businesses—and massage therapists with enough session-room space can also consider offering such touchless treatments as sauna, hot water immersion, LED therapy—or even a specialized treatment table wired for quantum harmonic sound therapy.
15. Educated (With Your Help) Clients
Online chatter and social posts reflect a growing focus on the part of massage therapists on client education. Heather L. Ash, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is one massage therapist who educates clients while she works. “I am constantly trying to help clients unlearn the idea that ‘deep’ pressure and ‘firm’ pressure are the same thing, that ‘knots’ are a thing, that harder pressure is better, and that [massage] has to hurt to feel better.” Other client-education topics? Stretching between sessions and understanding that regular massage is part of a healthy wellness program.
16. Body Love
The isolation engendered by COVID-19-related restrictions fueled disordered eating behavior—and with the relaxation of restrictions, diet culture came roaring back, says registered dietitian nutritionist Lauren MacLeod, RD. “Every wellness influencer seemed to be touting ways to kick COVID weight gain,” she said. Providing a counterbalance is the body positive movement, with messages about loving your body as it is, moving joyfully and eating mindfully. “People are tired of diet culture dictating their lives … the core value of [the body-positive] movement is to accept your body as it is and encourage balanced lifestyle choices. Health is not determined by weight, but rather by these small, consistent changes, such as eating all foods in balance (intuitive eating), participating in mindful and enjoyable movement, sleeping well and caring for your mental health.”
17. The COVID-19 Survivor on Your Table
As many as one-third of all Americans have been infected with COVID-19, according to Columbia University researchers. The latest systematic review of 57 studies comprising more than 250,000 survivors of COVID-19 indicates 50% of COVID-19 survivors will suffer from ongoing symptoms ranging from mild to debilitating—fatigue, headaches, breathing difficulties, coughing, heart palpitations, joint or muscle pains, loss of taste and smell, digestive issues, mood changes, dizziness and brain fog, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—for six months or longer. “While massage therapy cannot always help alleviate such symptoms, there are several that can be helped with massage,” says medical massage therapist David Weintraub, LMT, who wrote on this topic for massagemag.com. “The obvious ones to look out for are joint-and-muscle pain and headaches. Clients presenting with these conditions are very likely to find relief with massage therapy. Breathing difficulties, coughing, digestive issues, dizziness and brain fog may also be helped.”
Clients are very aware now of sanitation protocols and expect impeccable cleanliness. One national poll of massage therapists shows that almost 90% of you are undertaking more thorough cleaning and sanitation procedures than before. That’s good: According to MINDBODY’s State of the Spa and Salon Industry Report 2021, 36% of germ-wary consumers say cleanliness is the most important factor when visiting a salon or spa.
19. Ongoing Trauma
With what we have all been through since early 2020—racial discord, political upheaval, and the grief of 800,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, you can expect to see more people on your table who present with trauma. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event, with long-term reactions to trauma possibly including unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. Massage therapist and educator Jimmy Gialelis, LMT, sees clients presenting with trauma in his Tempe, Arizona, practice. “These individuals display great strength and fortitude,” he says. “Their bodies have taught me many lessons. They often share their stories with me. As I listen actively, their words resonate a spirit of hope. They trust they will receive healing within our sessions together.” One key principle when working with trauma patients is to remember that the client will not benefit from therapy of any sort—massage, physical, counseling, psychiatry— until their body is moved into a parasympathetic state, Gialelis says. “I do my best to create a safe, neutral environment in which trauma clients can relax and experience their session fully. Ambiance of my room, music selected, quality of touch, comfort level of client and warm aesthetics are all factors I consciously check before working with trauma clients to ensure they can experience a parasympathetic state upon my table.” West Haven, Connecticut, massage therapist Tina Marie, LMT, also specializes in trauma and anxiety-related conditions. “Bodywork for some can be very daunting, and as bodyworkers we are working bottom up—body to mind connections,” she says. “Having a better understanding and education on the mind, handling and knowing differences of shock, trauma and stress can greatly improve a bodywork experience for those suffering great anxiety, phobia, panics, depression—the list is long.”
20. Pain Brain
A growing body of research supports the biopsychosocial model of pain—meaning pain sensations are created with input from the brain and also modified based on memories, past experiences and other social phenomenon. Noteworthy for massage therapists is the language used to describe one’s feelings, including pain. “I’ve noticed a common factor in clients with chronic pain,” says bodyworker and educator Anna Lunaria, who wrote on this topic on massagemag.com. “These clients often begin their sessions characterizing their pain in pejorative terms, such as ‘This is my bad hip’; ‘I’m a train wreck’; or ‘I’m all twisted up.’ Shifting their relationship with their body through mindful language choices is pivotal in addressing their chronic pain and their relationship with their body.”
Cannabidiol from hemp, or CBD, is big business; all 50 states have legalized its use in one form or another (check with your regulator before offering CBD massage). “Research is indicating that CBD, when applied topically, may function like capsaicin, provide many of the same therapeutic benefits of capsaicin for the treatment of arthritis and nerve pain but be much more pleasant to use,” says Jeffrey Cullers, DC, vice president of Premier US Hemp. “When other ingredients like menthol, essential oils and herbs are added to CBD, it may promote the effectiveness of CBD.” People want to incorporate CBD treatments into their wellness plans, says Pamela Heavner, key opinion leader for Charlotte’s Web. “It can be beneficial to offer a CBD massage session to attract those consumers looking for creative and effective ways to utilize CBD for pain management.” CBD topicals can be a great way to earn extra income, as clients can take advantage of the convenience of purchasing from their massage therapist after receiving a pain-relieving CBD massage session, Heavner adds. “The added income makes this a win-win for both the therapist and the client.”
22. You Tell Us
Transparency and two-way communication are important in today’s journalism, and MASSAGE Magazine is fully on board with this trend. We want to tell your story, cover the topics you’re most interested in, and provide you with the information and advice that will help you thrive as a massage therapist. Reach out and share your ideas, anytime, with our editorial staff at email@example.com.
About the Author
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief, print and digital. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.