Why Are Massages So Expensive in the US and How to Save?

Picture of a woman paying for a massage

Massage therapy is a fairly common practice. So why aren’t massages more affordable?

Massages are expensive because we are paying for the work time of the trained massage therapist that happens during the time they are with us, as well as for the work done prior to the appointment to get the space and therapist ready to work on your health. There are also many other expenses involved, like the lotion, massage space, marketing, and cleaning.

On top of this, you may have noticed that massages are particularly expensive in the US. Why?

Massages are particularly expensive in the US because the average income of skilled workers and practitioners is higher than in other countries, especially developing countries. It would not make economic sense for a massage therapist to accept an income significantly lower than professionals in other fields with the same level of requirements. At the same time, the average income of consumers is also higher in the US, making it more likely that they would be willing to pay more to secure a massage rather than to go without it. On top of this, it isn’t common for health insurance in the US to cover the cost of your appointment with a massage therapist, which means higher out-of-pocket expenses than with other healthcare options.

Below, we’ll look at all of the costs you’re really paying for in your massage therapy bill. We’ll also look at how to possibly make your massage appointments more affordable.

Why Aren’t Massages More Affordable?

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Even less expensive massages are a great deal more costly than it often seems like they should be.

Nationwide research has given us a look at general averages. The low-end cost range for a massage is $65 to $75 per hour in the United States, with a high-end range of $145 to $180 per hour. The national average is still $100 an hour.

Regular massages can help so much for so many people. Why aren’t massages more affordable than that? Even for just one hour, an extra $100 a month for a monthly appointment is a considerable expense for a lot of people. And that doesn’t even include the standard tip for a massage.

As much money as that may seem, massage therapists aren’t really overcharging. Let’s take a look at how their expenses break down.

The first consideration is the time of the massage therapist. There is the hour of the actual massage taking place, but they are actually working outside of that hour to make your massage possible as well. Their other tasks include setting up the appointments, marketing their services, cleaning every surface the therapist and their client touches while they are in the room, selecting lotions and other tools for the massage, and doing laundry for the day. Washing the sheets from every appointment is actually a considerable task.

The appointment also requires tools and resources. This may include stones or other tools used during a massage, as well as the lotions selected. Then there are expenses like renting the space for the massage and the utilities that go along with it. Even keeping a decent selection of relaxing music adds to the cost.

Becoming a massage therapy requires training and a license in the United States, so that’s another expense to consider.

On top of all this, most massage therapists can only perform for about four hours a day. While some may try for five or even six, there is a concern about injury that locks most massage therapists into a limit of four hours, so four appointments, a day. Performing a good massage requires a lot of physical effort that can take a toll on their hands and wrists. Many therapists say that if they do more appointments per day, they don’t feel they are as good at their jobs, because they become weaker and don’t massage as well.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t working eight hours a day, though. As explained above, even with only four massage hours, they have eight hours of work ahead of them with all of the other associated tasks that make a massage happen.

So why aren’t massages more affordable for clients? The extra time and the resources that go into making a one-hour massage happen are factors needing to be considered into that one hour pricing. When all of that is taken into consideration, it makes more sense that a massage costs what it does, because of how far that dollar has to stretch to cover everything involved.

Why Are Massages So Expensive In the USA?

There are two main parts to this answer.

First, there are general economic considerations.

As I mentioned before, the average income of skilled workers and practitioners in the US is higher than in other countries, particularly developing countries.

When someone in the US decides to take on the costs and the hard work required to become a trained and licensed massage therapist, they weigh the possible return on investment against other lucrative options.

Imagine for a moment that, for some reason, the Government forced massage prices down. Current massage therapists and especially aspiring massage therapists would feel compelled to look for more lucrative alternatives with the same requirements (expensive education, license, effort, and time). This would, in turn, create a shortage of qualified and licensed massage therapists or force the prices back up.

At the same time, the average income of consumers in the US is also higher than in other countries. That means that, collectively, all those interested in experiencing the benefits of massage are capable and oftentimes willing to pay more to secure a massage rather than go without it.

As economists would say, the expectations of massage therapists and massage consumers reach an equilibrium price higher than in other, less economically developed countries.

While this explains to a great extent the difference in massage prices when comparing the US and developing countries, it still doesn’t explain why out-of-pocket expenses tend to be higher in the US than in other developed countries with comparable average incomes.

We have to take into account specific health policy considerations.

In the United States, a lot of healthcare expenses are offset for the consumer by using health insurance. This lowers the cost most of us see when we pay for a visit to a primary healthcare provider or even a chiropractor.

However, massage therapy isn’t a standard that’s often covered by insurance companies in the United States. In European countries and in Canada, it’s more common for coverage to include this.

There tend to be some exceptions, though. For example, if you’ve recently been in a car accident and your primary medical doctor prescribes massage therapy, your insurance plan may cover it. To find out if they might, you’ll need to ask your own insurance company directly.

Paying out of pocket makes the prices for massage therapy much higher and it might seem like the therapists are overcharging.

Ways to Make Massages More Affordable

One way to make massage therapy more affordable is to see if your insurance will pay for it. This may be possible if your medical doctor prescribes it as medically necessary. Not all insurance plans cover this, even if your doctor prescribes it, so the best way to get clear answers is to talk to your insurance company to find out their policies.

If your insurance company does cover your massage therapy, you’ll then need to talk to your doctor. If they prescribe it, you can then talk to the appropriate massage therapist to get your care partially paid for by your coverage.

Another way to make massages more affordable is to ask your masseuse if they have a massage package. This is sometimes called a massage series. In this case, you’ll typically need to pay for multiple sessions ahead of time, which can be a large sum all at once. However, by prepaying for your care, you’ll get a discounted price for each individual session. This can save you some money in the long run.

If you’re having a difficult time fitting massage sessions into your budget, you may also consider asking if your massage therapist offers gift certificates. Whenever a gift-giving holiday comes around, you can let people know that your preferred gift is certificates for massage appointments with your favorite masseuse.

Finally, if you don’t have a specific ailment that requires a specialist and you are using massage mainly as a way to relax and destress, consider trying a great self-massage routine and alternating your paid massage sessions with at-home self-massage sessions.

The Value of A Massage

While the costs of a massage may be considerable, one thing to take into account is the value you’re getting. Massages are often written off as a luxury expense that can easily be skipped. This makes many of us feel guilty for paying so much. However, if your budget will allow for a regular massage, you should always remind yourself of the proven health benefits.

Regular massage appointments have been shown to relieve stress levels, boost mental health, lower blood pressure, improve physical fitness levels and help us recover from injuries, manage chronic pain issues, and improve the functioning of immune systems.

These benefits are just general ones, let alone the benefits if you have a specific condition, like chronic back pain, a sports injury, nerve pain, anxiety, or suffer from migraines or headaches.

When you think about the expense of massage therapy, if you feel guilty, remember to consider the value of your dollar and what you’re purchasing for yourself and your well-being.