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Massage Today
August, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 08

An Open Letter to the Massage Profession From the American Medical Massage Association

By Gregory T. Lawton, DN, DC

The American Medical Massage Association (AMMA) has long been aware of the controversy and complexities surrounding the designation "medical massage." The AMMA was formed by physicians, allied medical personnel and massage therapists with interests in massage therapy who sought to professionally differentiate themselves from general massage practices that lacked ethical or scientific precepts.

The AMMA does not seek to define medical massage for the massage community but rather seeks to establish definitions and guidelines for our membership, which is a multidisciplinary group of massage and allied health providers.

Since 1998, the AMMA has provided its membership with definitions based on professional ethical practices, state regulations, and scientific studies. The development of medical massage as viewed by the AMMA and its members, is an ongoing process and not an event. Definitions and guidelines of what constitutes medical massage legally and scientifically continue to unfold as the practice of medical massage matures, is recognized by state regulatory bodies, and is illuminated by scientific investigation into the biology of massage therapy, biomechanics, and other related sciences of manual medicine.

The AMMA has been preparing and releasing documents related to medical massage for the last six years and this, in part, has accounted for the growth of the association within a narrow and select population of massage therapists in the U.S. who meet AMMA's membership requirements, which are the strictest among the massage associations. The AMMA is not in a race with other associations for members, and indeed our minimum membership requirement for lay massage therapists eliminates the majority of massage therapists in the U.S. from membership.

The AMMA is a multidisciplinary voluntary membership association with members representing medicine, chiropractic, naturopathy, naprapathy and massage therapy who utilize massage therapy in their health care practices relative to the diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Lay massage and allied medical members of the AMMA are expected and required to observe and obey state laws protecting the practice of medicine and other state regulatory statutes. Lay massage therapists advertising and practicing medical massage are required to work under the direct in-office supervision of a licensed physician, or as defined by state law.

The AMMA points to the historical tradition of medical massage as practiced and utilized by physicians and allied medical personnel and as used in the corrective and restorative treatment of patients in formal medical and clinical settings. Many unqualified individuals within the general massage community have offered their personal and mostly uneducated opinions of what medical massage is. Nowhere has the AMMA witnessed a valid definition; indeed, most of what has been offered has only furthered misunderstandings and misconceptions within the massage profession. The AMMA views medical massage as a division of the science of manual medicine, which is also represented by manual therapy, physical therapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, naprapathy and other forms of treatment based on manual practices.

The AMMA strongly embraces the precepts and foundations of medicine that are related to scientific research, academic integrity and professional ethics. The AMMA has published numerous papers related to current scientific research as it may be applied to manual medicine and medical massage therapy and continues to provide this information to its members through its published scientific journal, training manuals and other educational materials and programs. The AMMA has stated that valid education in medical massage is predicated upon accepted science and scientifically validated techniques. And, in regards to professional ethics, the AMMA has established that the practice of non-physiological or fringe massage practices is unethical in a medical or clinical setting where patients are being treated for pain and suffering.

The question has been repeatedly asked, "Why call yourself a medical massage therapist?" The answer for the members of the AMMA is based on educational qualifications, medical and clinical training, state regulations and licensure, national board examination and certification, professional membership, and ongoing training and evaluation; however, for the AMMA member, the answer is more accurately related to the division between massage therapists who have met minimal educational standards obtained at substandard massage schools, who are trained in and use unscientific, non-physiological and fringe massage practices, and the standards that have been met by members of the AMMA. From this point of view, medical massage, and its re-establishment, was an idea whose time had come again.

As the various "stakeholders" in the massage profession attempt to define medical massage, we ask them to keep in mind the several thousand current members of the AMMA and their voices. It is the opinion of the AMMA that medical massage will not so much be defined by democratic process as by current and future legal definitions and by scientific and academic process. The AMMA believes that medical massage must be defined in much the same way as physical or occupational therapy has been, by research and clinical studies of its techniques and protocols. We believe that the most important thing that the AMMA can do is call for professional understanding and unity.


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