Melissa Ryan
Melissa Ryan

A Conversation With Melissa Ryan: Massage as a Nonopioid Option for Pain Management

A Conversation With Melissa Ryan: Massage as a Nonopioid Option for Pain Management

Melissa Ryan, LMT with Quality Health Massotherapy in Steubenville, Ohio, talks about why she got into massage therapy how she uses massage to help people in chronic pain, the role massage plays in reducing opioid addiction, and her hopes that the profession she loves will continue to be recognized in the health care arena.

1. What was your motivation for pursuing a career in massage therapy?

There is no doubt the day that I signed up to be a massage therapist I wanted to do therapeutic massage. There wasn’t anybody in my area that was doing true therapeutic massage. I realize all massage has a therapeutic element to it, but it is not always a therapeutic intention, and that was my goal, to open a massage establishment working with the local physicians and physical therapists and doing the part of manual therapy that none of them seemed to want to do.

2. The opioid epidemic has been a concern for many. What role do you see for massage therapy in helping alleviate opioid dependence?

First, massage therapy is excellent for those that have an acute injury where we can use manual therapy in place of narcotics to help prevent addiction. Then, we can also provide non-opioid pain relief for those who are either in recovery or want to avoid narcotics when managing pain.

I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt, at least in my area here in southeast Ohio, the medical practitioners that I am working with and around are absolutely ready and willing to allow massage therapy to be a very active part of non-narcotic pain control.

3. Can massage therapy work in tandem with opioids?

I can see massage therapy and opioids being used in tandem with patients that are in chronic pain, especially if the medical providers have offered everything they have to offer.

Sometimes, the role of massage therapy is helping a person manage chronic pain so they don’t have to increase their use of opioids. For example, I have a client who hasn’t had to increase her pain medication dose in five years because she’s getting routine massage therapy.

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4. You’re talking with someone who is trying to manage acute pain who isn’t convinced massage therapy can help. What do you tell them?

I emphasize that massage therapy is a noninvasive means of pain control that may offer relief quickly. Sometimes, trying massage therapy means a person won’t need weeks and weeks of physical therapy. For example, massage therapy on the musculature of the hip may be all a person needs to get the hip loose enough so they can walk better.

I don’t fantasize that we can fix everything, but as noninvasive as our therapies are, I don’t understand why we couldn’t become the first step instead of the last.

5. Especially when managing pain, how important is it for clients to be ready to get regular massage vs. only trying one or two massage sessions?

Many times, it depends on the type of pain they are trying to manage. Under normal circumstances, when I get someone referred to me, I do maybe two to three visits one week apart. Then, the patient and I sit down together and measure how much relief they are getting and how long the relief lasts. Oftentimes, after two or three visits, I am able to stretch them out to once every two weeks or once every three weeks. We usually try to get everyone down to once a month. Basically, the determination is being made based on how much pain relief they get and how long it lasts.

I have clients where working on them once a month keeps them going and they absolutely know when it is time to get back in. Then, I have others where it is all we can do to get them through a week. It has a lot to do with communication with everybody. I have to remain in communication with the ordering practitioner, the insurance companies, and with the patient.

6. What is some of the most memorable feedback you’ve gotten from your massage clients, and what does knowing you’ve helped people better manage pain mean to you?

My veteran clients range from just getting out of active duty to patients that are Vietnam veterans. It is absolutely amazing to me how many times some of these people have told me that they have been in pain throughout the whole latter part of their lives. They always thought it was going to be like that no matter what, but coming to me has really given them the opportunity to be able to concentrate on something other than their pain.

7. Massage is a demanding profession, both physically and mentally. What are some of your favorite self-care regimens, tools, resources?

It can be very difficult. It is very easy to tell yourself you are setting limits to how many people you are going to work on in a given day, but then the phone rings and it is someone in pain. It’s hard to say “no.” Always do what you need to to give yourself physical and or emotional release.

I can tell you one of the things that builds me back up and makes me strong is working on changing the laws and changing the whole concept of massage therapy. I am the president of the Ohio chapter of AMTA, and we are working to become part of health care so massage therapy can be covered by insurance. I don’t want massage therapy to be just for those who can afford it. I want it to be for everybody. Anything like that you can do to build yourself back up and give you emotional strength again is what I advise everybody to do.

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