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Massage Today
September, 2009, Vol. 9, Issue 09

Getting Your Clients to See a Physician

By Ben Benjamin, PhD

Question: Why is it so important to have someone see a doctor?

Answer: Whenever a client comes to see you with a pain problem, it's important to get a doctor's consultation to screen out serious medical conditions.

There are many symptoms that won't make any sense to you but will be clear to a physician (e.g. pain in both heels can be a sign of gonorrhea). Difficulty lifting one arm to the side could be an indication of various musculoskeletal problems (i.e. tendon strain, bursitis, or frozen shoulder) or it could be a sign of cancer in the lung. One of my graduates told me about a client who was very afraid to see a doctor after several bad experiences. This man had great difficulty with neck rotation and weakness on resisted rotations of the neck. The practitioner could tell that the client had some serious neck ligament injuries, but also knew that there could be other problems that were outside his scope of practice. The therapist made a good connection with the client, and with some prodding and encouragement, the man went to see a doctor. As it turned out, he had a brain tumor, and his visit to the doctor was an important turning point in his life.

Failure to see a physician can have very serious consequences. I recently heard of a woman who had a pain in her throat and chose to be treated solely by alternative health care practitioners, none of whom provided a referral to a physician. Six months later she found out she had potentially fatal throat cancer. She lost six months of valuable time when she could have been receiving life-saving treatment.

Massage therapists and bodyworkers can practice safely within their areas of expertise as long as they maintain their humility. The policy of referring clients to a physician is crucial for the integrity of the therapist and of the profession as a whole, particularly when working with people who come for pain relief. Because I am known for my work with pain and injuries, most of the clients I encounter have already been to see many doctors and other health care professionals. This will likely be the case for you as well. But for those individuals in pain who have not seen a physician, it's your job to suggest that they do so.

Click here for more information about Ben Benjamin, PhD.


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