A Descriptive Study of the Practice Patterns of New Zealand Massage Therapists

  • Joanna M. Smith, PhD Southern Institute of Technology
  • S. John Sullivan, PhD
  • G. David Baxter, DPhil
Keywords: Complementary and alternative therapies, massage therapy, New Zealand, integrative care, practice patterns


Background: Massage therapy has grown in popularity, yet little is known globally or in New Zealand about massage therapists and their practices. Purpose and Setting: The aims of this study were to describe the practice patterns of trained Massage New Zealand massage therapists in New Zealand private practice, with regard to therapist characteristics; practice modes and settings, and therapy characteristics; referral patterns; and massage therapy as an occupation. Research Design and Participants: A survey questionnaire was mailed to 66 trained massage therapist members of Massage New Zealand who were recruiting massage clients for a concurrent study of massage therapy culture. Results: Most massage therapists were women (83%), NZ European (76%), and holders of a massage diploma qualification (89%). Massage therapy was both a full- (58%) and part-time (42%) occupation, with the practice of massage therapy being the only source of employment for 70% of therapists. Nearly all therapists (94%) practiced massage for more than 40 weeks in the year, providing a median of 16 – 20 hours of direct client care per week. Most massage therapists worked in a “solo practice” (58%) and used a wide and active referral network. Almost all therapists treated musculoskeletal symptoms: the most common client issues or conditions treated were back pain/problem (99%), neck/shoulder pain/problem (99%), headache or migraine (99%), relaxation and stress reduction (96%), and regular recovery or maintenance massage (89%). The most frequent client fee per treatment was NZ$60 per hour in a clinic and NZ$1 per minute at a sports event or in the workplace. Therapeutic massage, relaxation massage, sports massage, and trigger-point therapy were the most common styles of massage therapy offered. Nearly all massage therapists (99%) undertook client assessment; 95% typically provided self-care recommendations; and 32% combined other complementary and alternative medicine therapies with their massage consultations. Conclusions: This study provides new information about the practice of massage therapy by trained massage therapists. It will help to inform the massage industry and other health care providers, potential funders, and policymakers about the provision of massage therapy in the NZ health care system.

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How to Cite
Smith, PhD, J. M., Sullivan, PhD, S. J., & Baxter, DPhil, G. D. (2011). A Descriptive Study of the Practice Patterns of New Zealand Massage Therapists. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Research Education &Amp; Practice, 4(1), 18–27. https://doi.org/10.3822/ijtmb.v4i1.97