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Massage Today
September, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 09

Massage Therapists: Don't Underestimate Your Role in Health Care

By Linda Riach

Massage therapy is great stuff in all its forms. It offers relaxation in an overstressed world, sanctuary in an hour, mind-body connections for desk jockeys, performance enhancement for athletes, and, most importantly, healing for many who have looked high and low in vain for alternatives.

There's virtually something for everyone. Massage is potent and transformational.

I am no different than 77 million baby boomers out there; I share the same tension headaches, weekend-warrior injuries and the need to vent my stress. But that isn't the most important part for me. I am also one of the many who deal with chronic pain. I have a deformity of my mandible that causes my jaw to dislocate and causes spasms in my head and neck. Suffice it to say that I've tried everything from acupuncture and Chinese medicine to Celebrex and Vioxx - each to varying degrees of ineffectiveness. Steroid injections can offer immediate relief, but studies show that continued usage can cause even more damage.

For years I struggled with chronic pain; even though I am a believer in, and advocate for, the power of bodywork and massage therapy, it took my own experience with traditional medicine and medical options to motivate me to take a stand for massage therapy as a profession and as a means to positively affect quality of life. For me, the only thing that has made any type of true impact is consistent massage therapy. Literally, a session with my practitioner every two weeks, with a combination of Zero Balancing, Myofascial Release and craniosacral work, is the difference between chronic pain and normal functionality.

My professional experiences with physical therapists, athletic trainers and pain-medicine physicians, as well as the astronomical growth in those industries, confirm my personal beliefs: The population is aging, pain-management practices are soaring, yet the tools for pain management are limited. This provides an unprecedented opportunity for the massage profession to take an active role as health care providers when both patients and doctors are looking for effective sources of relief. I believe that the time has come that patients are open and doctors are increasingly willing to look at what massage therapists have known all along.

With the increasing awareness of the limitations and side effects of pharmaceuticals and surgical intervention, it's not only timely but it's a responsibility of the massage profession to take its rightful place in health care. I believe it is important for the massage industry to reach out in this direction, to help develop new professional outlets for graduates and to increase the scope of professional choices open to them. Helping to expand massage therapy as a part of traditional treatment options will directly increase the quality of life for the millions who need it.

Credibility for massage therapy within medical spheres is growing with the development of industry experts who are willing to act as spokespeople and ambassadors for massage therapy to the medical community, helping to initiate and promote successful alliances and productive conversation. Those doctors, who are already open to such integrated approaches, are looking to build relationships with massage therapists who can communicate with them and whose knowledge and professionalism can serve the patients in their care.

Our professional groups, associations and organizations can, if we support them, work to develop educational programs for doctors and patients to learn about the massage and bodywork modalities that meet their needs, marketing efforts to expand the contact pool, and alliances with other health care providers to build strong working relationships. Leading researchers and educators have been developing meaningful scientific studies that back up our day-to-day experiences with massage therapy and a stock of anecdotal evidence to help cultivate the interest of the doctors and patients. We, as professionals, need to publish our findings, and we need to keep investing in research to develop the promise of our future.

Practitioners can and should have the confidence to reach out to doctors and forge those relationships. Through advanced studies built on reliable research, massage therapists can have the language to discuss what their heads and hands already know, in the language that more mainstream health care providers use.

What will massage therapy look like in the future? How will it incorporate the diversity of what it is now and what it will become in order to meet these new opportunities? There are massage schools that have built alliances with medical schools, supporting this new world of complementary medicine. They and others who follow will develop new programs for learning together. Will we have advanced degrees in massage therapy? I hope so. I also hope we will hold on to and spread the integrated body approach that makes a massage session great.

I'm not advocating a revolution and I am not every patient, but I know my experience is one of many. What I am advocating is that we help lead and mindfully participate in an evolution that is already going on around us. I am asking everyone who shares a similar vision to rise to the opportunity and take advantage of the promise - for the sake of the profession and for the sake of all those who could benefit.

Click here for previous articles by Linda Riach.


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