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Is the life of a massage therapist's career really only 8 years?

by Samantha Jenkins January 14, 2020

Closeup hourglass clock on light blue background

Reports vary but word on the street is that the average career for a massage therapist lasts anywhere between 5-8 years! There's no doubt this is a seriously depressing stat! Looking at this figure it's easy to jump to the conclusion that after paying for training, equipment, and giving your time and your energy a career in massage therapy wouldn't be a great return on your investment!

But there are ways to take care of yourself, avoid burnout and enjoy a longer more fulfilling career.

So lets first look at why massage therapists burn out before seeing how you can ensure a long and happy career in the massage industry!


Facebook post from Mandi Parker about the average life span of a massage therapy career


Why do so many massage therapists burn out? 

It's true that setting off for a career in massage therapy will be a tough journey, especially if you are intending on working for yourself. But there are two themes that regularly crop up when looking at why massage therapists quit; financial strain and physical and emotional burnout.  


Facebook post from Morgan Lewis about burning out from her career in massage therapy


But a career in massage therapy can be extremely rewarding! Not just in terms of what you give to your clients but also in the freedom it can offer, both in terms of the flexibility of working schedule and the ability to work from home. 

So how can you take care of yourself and prolong your massage therapy career? 

As Mandi mentioned above the first and most crucial step is to take care of your body mechanics. There are also many great courses available that promote hands free techniques, reducing the impact on your hands which can aid substantially in lengthening your career in massage. Another great way to protect your hands and maintain your massage therapy career is to integrate a tool into your treatments. This inexpensive thumb saver tool is great for trigger point therapy and working out your client's knots whilst reducing the strain on your thumb! 


Facebook post from Tracy Baker about firing vampire clients


Nothing can drain a business more than bad clients! Setting clear boundaries with your clients is vital to maintaining a healthy career. You want to attract clients who respect the hours you want to work, the fee that you charge and that you need to take time off for a holiday or when you are sick. The time and energy used up chasing payments, answering requests for discounts or handling rude or abusive behaviour can brew into a situation that could end your career in massage therapy. Do you find yourself dreading seeing a particular client? Read here to find out when it's time to protect your massage therapy business and say goodbye to your nightmare customers. 

 Facebook post from Kristy Kelly about scheduling treatments for the week


As in any small business it's crucial to schedule your time smartly as a massage therapist. It is one of the great benefits of working in our industry that we can have the flexibility to work our treatments around other commitments such as childcare, looking after elderly relatives or even the activities we enjoy, such as going to the gym or an art class. However, as we have seen already, many therapists find their schedules in a constant state of feast or famine, leading to frustration, financial insecurity and eventually burnout. Read here how one simple scheduling trick can transform your diary and lead to a more fulfilling career in massage. 


Facebook post from Miranda Jo about getting regular treatments as a massage therapist


It is one of the greatest ironies that as massage therapists we often neglect to get  massages ourselves but it is crucial for a variety of reasons to schedule in regular treatments. Massage swaps can be a great way to network with other massage therapists in your area whilst undertaking some much needed self care! After all it is hard to convince clients of the benefits of massage if we don't practice what we preach! 

 Facebook post from Rachael Orme about learning new skills to keep the passion for massage therapy


Another important aspect of maintaining a happy and healthy career in massage therapy is to keep your passion alive through regular CPD. Not only is this important to keep your skills up to date and a great way to demonstrate your professionalism to clients, it also helps to reignite the passion for your career. Setting yourself a new challenge is a great way to avoid becoming repetitive and will impress your clients who will no doubt find your enthusiasm infectious!   


Facebook post from Alfred Westlake about upgrading to an electric massage table to prolong your career


When the time is right for your massage therapy business, investing in an electric massage table will aid immensely in keeping your body mechanics working well during treatments. Electric massage tables make it much easier to adjust clients to the correct height for you to deliver an amazing treatment without straining your body.  


 Facebook post from Anna Ramsby-Thrower about training in Thai Massage to maintain a healthy career as a massage therapist


Exploring different modalities that require less pressure can be a way to help prolong your career in massage therapy. Relying solely on deep tissue techniques can burn you out physically much faster and isn't necessary to deliver an amazing massage treatment. Some massage therapists also combine their treatments with other less demanding therapies like hot stone treatments or beauty treatments such as facials to keep their books filled up without putting a massive strain on their bodies. 


 Facebook post from Destiny Lehew about taking proper holidays as a massage therapist


Taking regular breaks in any career is crucial to avoiding burnout. This is another important boundary to establish with clients who, if reasonable, will totally understand the need to get away and take a few weeks to recharge properly. If you are finding that you are extremely burnout and in need of a longer break, then rather than quitting massage therapy, look to take a sabbatical. You can tell your clients you are going away for a couple of months on a training course, recharge or recover from a medical condition and make sure you already have their next few treatments booked in for your return. Many therapists have found that this technique saved then from leaving the industry all together and that all their clients were happy to wait rather than going through the inconvenience of finding another therapist and some where even impressed at the level of dedication to training and providing a top massage treatment.  

If you really feel you are heading towards a place where you can no longer work with clients directly this doesn't mean you need to leave the industry entirely. Take time to think, are there other ways you can serve the industry? Perhaps you could seek out a role as a teacher at an established school or look to set up a training school of your own? Maybe you could help out at an association or set up a blog sharing your experiences and offering your consultation services to newbie therapists! 

How long have you been in the massage therapy industry? How do you protect yourself and your career? Let us know in our Facebook thread

Samantha Jenkins
Samantha Jenkins


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Massage Table Size Guide

Massage tables comes in many different shapes and size. It can be confusing for you, the customer, to choose the right one but we are here to help!

A lot of customers call us up after they have bought the wrong size massage table elsewhere and we would like to help you avoid this mistake. It normally goes something like this; they like the look of a picture of a massage table on a website, they like the low price and then they check the carrying weight is ok. If the carrying weight fits their needs they click add to cart and the new massage table turns up at their doorstep in a few days. They unfortunately assume all massage tables are pretty much the same width and size.

The standard size of a massage table is 28 inches wide (71cms) and 73 inches (185cms) long. One of the reasons many "lightweight" budget massage tables are so cheap is because

  1.  They are smaller in size (normally around 61cms wide) and as such have less materials
  2. They are sold by specialist retailers who also sell anything else they can import and turn a profit on. As such they just buy the cheapest massage tables they can find in China. They go for smaller sizes as they are cheaper.

Make sure the massage table is the right size for you and your clients as the narrow massage tables at 61cms can be very uncomfortable for anyone who isn't petite and many clients cannot relax with their shoulders and arms unsupported.


The Width of the Massage Table:

Almost all therapists choose the standard 28 inch wide massage table. All our massage tables are the same length so it is only the width and shape our customers need to decide on.

Your massage table should be wide enough to cater for the wide variety of shapes and sizes of your clients. It needs to be wide enough to comfortably accommodate your treatment style, while being narrow enough to ensure you don’t have to strain your own back during treatments.

Each therapist's postural training and ability is different, so only you will know what massage table width you can handle. We have spoken to therapists who are five feet tall and get the wider 30 inch massage tables, and we speak to six foot therapists who have back problems and go for a 25 inch wide massage table. Everyone is different.

Generally speaking, if you are of smaller stature, you may do better with one of the narrower 25-inch massage tables. If you're quite tall, or are particularly keen to offer your clients a very spacious experience, a 30-inch massage table might be more suitable.

If you are in doubt, see if you can go into your local training college and see whether the massage tables there suit you. However, there is another way to get a feel for what will work of you don’t have access to a couch when you are deciding:

Cut out a piece of cardboard to the dimensions of both sizes you are deciding between. Put it on top of the kitchen table and lean over it. Visualise a client lying there, and see which width will suit you and your client best.

measuring the width of a massage table

Make sure you can get close enough to the table that you can pivot at the waist and have your shoulders squared to the clients hips, with your hands parallel to the clients' spine. Working in this position will ensure an injury-free career, so it's an important factor in your decision.

The most popular massage table widths are 28 and 30 inches. We sell 25-inch massage tables but you should really only choose this width if you are shorter in height and having a wider massage table might put your own back at risk over the course of your career.

You can also choose the 25-inch if you want to have the lightest massage table possible. By reducing the width of the massage table, the weight is also reduced. Now, this can mean a trade-off of some client comfort, but this trade is often worthwhile if you are a fully mobile therapist and use public transport frequently, where saving a kilogram or two will make a difference to you over time.


The Height Of the Massage Table

Nowadays, almost all portable massage tables come with height adjustable legs. Whichever massage table you choose should come with a large height range to accommodate you, and to cater for a broad range of therapies.

A common height range of massage tables is between 60 to 80cm, and this height range should cater for everyone. To check which height you need your massage table to be at follow this rule of thumb:

1. Stand up straight with your hands by your sides. Clench your fists.
2. Measure the distance between the floor and your knuckles
3. This distance should equal the height of your massage table.
4. Add a few inches in height to allow for the body of the patient on the massage table.

The height of a massage table is usually only adjusted when different therapists are using the same massage table, or if you have a client that is outside the average size you normally treat. So for example, if someone with a lot of body depth comes for a treatment after an average size person, you may need to adjust the height a notch or two.

You should be able to adjust the height of a massage table in just 2-3 minutes. Even though you mightn't adjust the height very often, the faster the better when you do have to!

There are 2 types of height adjustment mechanisms found on modern massage tables.

1) Twisting knobs (found only on wooden massage tables):

If you are working with a wooden massage table, it is better to have two knobs on each of the four legs for greater strength and reliability. When buying online, make sure to check how many knobs are on the legs. Cheap massage tables often only have one knob, and when you raise the legs to the highest heights they are less stable and have been known to snap.

2) Telescopic push-buttons (found only on aluminium massage tables):

The mechanism to adjust the height of an aluminium massage table is much the same as the push-button method on aluminium crutches. It only takes a few seconds to adjust each leg, and the mechanism is very reliable. Check out the video to see how it’s done.


Massage Table Shape:

The following are the different shapes of massage tables on the market.

1. Rectangle shaped with square corners 

This is the traditional shape of a massage table and the one you are probably familiar with seeing. Our Combi-lite 3 in 1 and Affinity Portaflex are shaped like this.

2. Rectangle shaped with rounded corners

Same as no 1 above in every way except the corners are rounded. Does not affect function in any way, just a different design/look.


3. Hour glass shaped with gradual gradient 

A fabulous massage table innovation in recent years, which solves a lot of the problems around choosing the correct width is the hourglass shaped massage table.

This style of massage table is wider at the ends, and tapers somewhat at the middle. This provide a spacious and comfortable experience for your client (as the shoulder and feet area are 30 inches wide) without compromising your own posture and health, as the middle of the couch where you lean over is a much narrower 26 inches wide.Having recently upgraded to one of these hourglass massage tables myself, I can vouch that my working days are much more comfortable, and many of my clients have commented on the extra comfort from the wider shoulder area.


4. Hour glass shaped with sharp gradient
Same as point above but instead of the it gradually going from wide to narrow, the massage table changes quickly from normal width to narrow width so people of very short stature can get in close.
5. Oval Shaped

 The name says it all! There are no corners on the massage table. Therapists normally choose this for one of two reasons. They simply like the look of this massage table and it is aesthetically more pleasing in their treatment room and/or they find it easier to move around the massage table during the treatment without having to side step the corners. This is particularly handy when space is limited in your treatment room.

oval massage table


Have any questions or comments about anything above? Please let us know in the comments below!