Integrative Medicine Blog

Massage Therapists are Health Professionals

Sue Coughtry, LMT Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Something that I find disappointing in my practice is how seldom doctors recommend therapeutic massage to their patients for the alleviation of pain.

They prescribe drugs, give shots, some recommend physical therapy (which is good and physical therapists can do some massage, but usually do very little in their work) and recommend surgery.  Only a rare doctor recommends massage or soft tissue work.  But massage therapy can do wonders for many conditions in a gentle way with only beneficial side effects.  I think part of the problem is that most doctors – and most people for that matter – look at massage therapy as simply a relaxing luxury instead of a set of soft tissue techniques for relieving pain.  This became obvious just this year as our Governor considered taxing massage therapy as part of the beauty industry, though we are licensed in a health field.  Fortunately the economic stimulus package allowed the Governor to drop this idea, but it made it clear how most people view massage therapy.

NYS has the most stringent requirements and the toughest licensing exam in the country for massage therapists.  While there is no separate licensing exam or certification for medical or orthopedic massage therapists, it is generally understood that a medical massage therapist has had more hours of schooling and continuing education to learn the latest and most cutting edge techniques for pain relief.  Medical massage therapists are specialists in muscles and they know how muscle imbalances can affect the joints and the organs and posture and cause pain.

I’d love to see massage therapy taken seriously as the health profession that it is. I’d love to see options for higher levels of education and licensure. I would love to see physicians refer patients to highly trained massage therapists – medical massage therapists – as a first step to see if the soft tissue techniques can solve the particular problem before they try something more invasive.  I’d love to see physicians collaborate with massage therapists the way many chiropractors do now.   I’m so grateful and delighted to be working with a group of doctors and health professionals who do take this seriously.  We have great success working together here at the Center.

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