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Massage Today
October, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 10

Thoughts on Being Part of Medicine

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

One of the most divisive issues in our profession today is the "medicalization" of massage. The population of massage therapists appears to me to be about evenly split between those who want to be recognized as worthy of standing on the health care stage, and those who want absolutely nothing to do with an already broken system.

Although most probably see me as a medical-massage promoter, I tend to stay firmly "on the fence" about this issue, seeing merit in arguments of both sides.

In the 12 years I have dedicated myself to massage, I have certainly seen the profession become more "medical!" Consider the following survey results: Of the 27 percent of Americans who have received a massage in the last five years, 35 percent got their last massage for medical reasons (AMTA survey, 2001).

Thirty-one percent of Americans were referred to a massage therapist by a chiropractor, and a physician referred 26 percent (AMTA survey, 2001). My own practice has an obvious slant toward the clinical, with most coming in for management and abatement of chronic pain patterns.

For all that I am still loathe to deal with third party reimbursement issues, or get pre-approval from some insurance adjuster before working with an individual in need; I tend to yawn at arguments like those recently printed in "We Get Letters and E-Mail" (Sept. 2004, about what current procedural terminology (CPT) codes can be used for. Even though I have a clinical practice, I am looking forward to having my first client tomorrow enjoy a wrap, instead of my usual mix of neuromuscular and myofascial interventions. I'm finding more and more that, when on a table myself (assuming a lack of my own chronic pain patterns), I enjoy fewer elbows than I used to, and look forward to being "sent to Pluto."

So if I don't fall firmly in one "camp" or the other, what is important enough about this issue to discuss? My great concern is that fewer and fewer of us are allowing ourselves to function capably in both good relaxation massage and effective clinical massage. I find it important that we do both! I don't think the expectations of our public are to see one therapist for orthopedic issues, another for stress-related issues, another for sports-injury prevention, and a fourth just because it feels good. I think the public wants, for a myriad of reasons, to just go get a massage! Their expectation is that the massage therapist they choose is capable of doing all of the above.

With massage therapy coming into it's own as a viable profession, I think tomorrow's massage therapists need to prepare themselves much better than we did. They'll have to be smarter, better trained, and as compassionate as we, to deal with the higher expectations we see daily in our practices. I think the public will expect any given therapist to be able to deal with a stiff neck, a sore back, the onset of adhesive capsulitis, the loss of a loved one, or the need for quiet time to rejuvenate. I'm all for raising the bar - to enhance the ability to use skilled touch in solution to a problem - and to enhance assured pleasurable touch, as opposed to tentative touch.

The pendulum is certainly now swinging toward medicalization. I guess that's good because that was the largest shortfall of skill sets we shared as a profession. I just hope the pendulum swings back soon, so we don't lose all those "touchy-feely" capabilities that got us on the map in the first place. Remember, it's all about the clients!

Thanks for listening!

Massage Today encourages letters to the editor to discuss matters related to the publication's content. Letters may be published in a future issue or online. Please send all correspondence by e-mail to , or via regular mail to

Massage Today
P.O. Box 4139
Huntington Beach, CA 92605

Former editor of Massage Today, Cliff is owner of Windham Health Center Neuromuscular Therapy LLC. He is nationally certified in therapeutic massage & bodywork and is licensed as a massage therapist by the states of New Hampshire and Florida. Cliff is a member of the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners; a professional member and past president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association; a certified member of the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Inc.; and a past chairman of the board of directors of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.


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