Massage Therapy in the Medical Field (Part III)

We’ve been writing over the past few weeks about medical massage therapy and the difficulty of defining what it is exactly. While we reached a fairly bland definition last week, what’s more important is that now, more than ever, people are beginning to use massage therapy for medical situations and in medical environments.

Indeed, the AMTA reported in its most recent industry fact sheet that an increasing number of massage therapists are receiving referrals from healthcare professionals, with 76 percent of therapists saying they had received referrals from professionals in the medical field in 2009 (up from 69 percent in 2008), averaging 1.5 referrals a month.

More striking is the fact that the number of hospitals offering complementary and alternative therapies in America has exploded over the past decade, with only 7.7 percent of hospitals offering CAM therapies in 1998 and 37.3 percent offering them as of 2007; of the 37.3 percent offering CAM therapies, 70.7 percent offer massage therapy, meaning more than a quarter (26.4 percent) of hospitals in America now offer massage therapy.

With the health industry being one of the quickest expanding industries in America, it’s good that massage therapy has a strong and growing place within it. And this idea of a massage therapist becoming an regular member among hospital staff is documented well in this summer’s Massage Therapy Journal.

In the article, the author describes massage therapists working in hospitals as integrative health practitioners in the hospital’s integrative health services department (a department within the hospital like neurology or physical therapy). Massage therapists, as integrative health practitioners, are part of a collaborative integrative health services team that monitors a patient’s medical progress in more ways than just reading charts and offering diagnoses, focusing instead on treatments that include massage therapy, aromatherapy, patient education, and music therapy, among others.

The goal is to focus on a patient’s physical and mental health, stay with the patient and monitor his or her progress continually, and use multiple techniques and therapies to give the patient the best care possible. The idea of integrative health services seems to be working, with reductions in pain in over 50 percent of the patients surveyed who had received integrative health care.

The article explains that massage therapists who work in hospitals as integrative health practitioners are trained in hospital protocol and in other medical skills. This, coupled with the many different forms of treatment described in the article, means that massage therapists who work in hospitals – like most professionals these days – must have multi-faceted skills and be able to work collaboratively.

Whether or not medical massage therapists become professionals in their own right, defined officially by the AMTA or some other agency, or if they become medical massage therapists under a different name (as they are currently in the case of integrative health practitioners), it seems that massage therapy in the medical world is something that will continue to grow in the immediate future, and is a field of massage therapy that should be watched closely.

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