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Massage Today
May, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 05

Massage Continues to Contribute

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

I like the fact that massage therapists are considered caregivers. I especially like the fact that people enjoy coming to us for care. All caregivers don't get that benefit. Many don't get the same pleasant feelings when they visit their doctor, dentist, chiropractor or acupuncturist.

When they visit us, they feel good about feeling better.

That being said, all the time spent in our treatment rooms isn't dreamy and delightful. My practice is fairly clinical, with most clients arriving because they either currently are experiencing discomfort or trying to stay ahead of chronic ailments. For some, just lying down on the table causes discomfort. Luckily, I'm usually able to make them more comfortable as the session progresses and help alleviate the discomfort altogether over time.

One of the very first continuing education classes I took was with a man who gave me a quote I have been using ever since: "Healthy muscles do not hurt when pressed upon!" Over and over, I see a steady stream of clients who experience muscle discomfort during massage. The fact that so many massage therapists are proving they can do something about the discomfort probably is a major reason for much of the growth our profession has seen in the past few decades.

Of all the various types of discomfort prevalent in society, the one I see most often in my practice is low back pain. It's so common that if you use the initials - LBP - most people will know what you mean. I've been to many continuing education classes specifically designed to deal with low back pain, so my track record is pretty good. However, most don't come to me until after they have had unsuccessful visits to their doctor or chiropractor. When I checked the Web for reference material, I found a list of questions a doctor will ask a patient with low back pain. I was pleasantly surprised to find that except for the last question, the list was identical to what I asked my clients.

The questions on the list are as follows:

  • Is your pain on one side only or both sides?
  • What does the pain feel like? Is it dull, sharp, throbbing or burning?
  • Is this the first time you have had back pain?
  • When did the pain begin? Did it start suddenly?
  • Did you have a particular injury or accident?
  • What were you doing just before the pain began? Were you lifting or bending? Sitting at your computer? Driving for a long distance?
  • If you have had back pain before, is this pain similar or different? In what way is it different?
  • Do you know the cause of previous episodes of back pain?
  • How long does each episode of back pain usually last?
  • Do you feel the pain anywhere other than your back, like your hip, thigh, leg or foot?
  • Do you have any numbness or tingling? Any weakness or loss of function in your leg or elsewhere?
  • What makes the pain worse? Lifting, twisting, standing, or sitting for long periods of time?
  • What makes you feel better?
  • Are there any other symptoms present? Weight loss? Fever? Change in urination? Change in bowel habits?

The doctor's treatment involves using over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce discomfort, and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation. My treatment involves various myofascial, neuromuscular and stretching techniques. We each share a goal of restoring proper function and strength to the back, and preventing recurrence of the injury. We both enjoy our share of success.

So, I know that massage therapy is effective for low back pain. I've seen it and I've felt it. My clients know it works. Unfortunately, the world at large does not know, and that is why research proving what we already know is so important. This is one of the reasons I was so very pleased last year to find that both leading U.S. massage therapy professional associations were actively involved in this effort. In September 2006, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) pledged $15,000 to help gain medical recognition of massage therapy as a treatment for low back pain. ABMP made this lead grant to the initiative (one-fourth of the funds needed to advance a review under the auspices of the National Institutes for Health, Office of Medical Applications of Research). Called a "consensus conference," the effort involves testimony and a research review by an independent panel. The last consensus conference addressing back pain was more than a decade ago and led to insurance coverage for spinal manipulation in treating back pain. At the same time, the body of research supporting massage therapy was deemed insufficient to gain similar recognition.

Sufficient research has been conducted since that time to provide the potential for favorable findings for massage and for some of the other complementary and alternative therapies that could be included in the same consensus conference process. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) also chose to support this effort and issued a press release in December 2006 outlining its efforts. While the AMTA did not detail the extent of its support, the Web site of the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC) ( leads me to surmise that the monetary support from the AMTA was at least $5,000.

I'm hoping we can report on the progress of this initiative. If the results are what I would suspect they should be, it will positively affect the practice of each of us - whether or not we do clinical work. If you are a member of either of these professional associations, you might want to send a note to their respective headquarters, thanking them for benefiting your practice!

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 by regular mail to:

Massage Today
P.O. Box 4109
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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