The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has long held the position that massage can help relieve pain. Research suggests that massage reduces pain from musculoskeletal injury, headache, cancer, trauma and other conditions.1
The AMTA’s position was upheld in 2016 when the journal Pain Medicine published the first-ever systematic review and meta-analysis of the quality of massage therapy research.2 The study* concluded that massage therapy can be recommended as an option to provide pain relief, reduce anxiety and improve health-related quality of life for those struggling with pain.
How Massage Therapy Reduces Pain
How exactly massage therapy reduces pain is still being studied. Various theories explore potential biochemical and neurophysiological connections. A review of research3 shows massage is linked with:
- Increased levels of serotonin
- Decreased levels of cortisol
- Better relaxation
- Reduced depression and anxiety
- Lower heart rate
- Increased flexibility
George Kousaleos, LMT, founder of CORE Institute and director of XPECORE Sports Bodywork, says massage therapists are “pain erasers.”
“I was excited in the late ’80s-early ’90s when the first research came out on massage therapy through the Touch Research Institute, talking about how regular massage increases serotonin levels and decreases cortisol levels,” says Kousaleos. “We know through research that massage has a primary effect on the autonomic nervous system, and when our fight or flight reflexes are overly stimulated we are likely more susceptible to strain and pain.”
In addition to calming the nervous system, Eric Stephenson, LMT, NCTMB, director of massage education at imassage, credits massage’s other neurological benefits.
“One of the great things that we’ve learned with recent research is pain is not actually an input as we thought it once was, but it’s an output,” he says. “It’s not necessarily input that causes the pain, but your brain’s interpretation of it. So, for massage therapy, one of the beneficial things about getting touch is that your brain’s interpreting that touch and it’s making sense of it and it’s hopefully decreasing your level of pain.”
What Your Clients (and Potential Clients) Need to Know
Educating the public on pain and safer options for pain relief may seem overwhelming. That has prompted initiatives like SaferPainRelief.org. This national effort simply and succinctly explains the facts while promoting care from hands-on health professionals — including massage therapists — as a safer alternative to taking opioids.
Broader knowledge of professional care options will play a key role in helping Americans find safer relief for musculoskeletal pain. Prescription medication still may be necessary for some, but more people should consider non-prescription pain relief methods, such as massage therapy, physical therapy and chiropractic medicine, as a first step.
Become an Advocate for Safer Pain Relief
It’s easy to spread the word about massage therapy being a safer alternative for pain relief — and start attracting new clients. Follow these three steps at SaferPainRelief.org:
- Request a free marketing kit. In it are tools you can use to inform your clients and community about the risks of opioid abuse and the role you play in providing safer pain relief.
- Join the network. The Professional Finder is a free search engine that connects patients seeking hands-on health care with local professionals like you. Create an account to get your practice in the Professional Finder. Doing so will give you access to even more resources to help you attract clients and grow your practice.
- Stay up-to-date. Browse the database of content from industry leaders addressing the relationship between professional care and opioid addiction. Read up on the latest research and insights to better inform your staff, your clients and yourself.
How to Market Your Practice for Pain Relief
In addition to using SaferPainRelief.org resources, consider these ways to position your massage practice as part of pain relief:
Team up with other wellness providers.
Connect with chiropractors, orthopedists, physical therapists, athletic trainers and others who help people optimize wellness. Working together compounds the benefits for your shared clients.
“Massage therapy falls into a category of wellness,” says Benny Vaughn, LMT, BCTMB, ATC, LAT, CSCS, MTI, owner Benny Vaughn Athletic Therapy Center. “It’s a part of one’s lifestyle that can make a difference for long-term health. Cooperative efforts with wellness centers that are hospital-based can be a great source of networking. They can be a great source of potential clients.”
Attend community events.
“Involvement in business and civic organizations makes a great impression on potential clients,” says Vaughn. And networking allows you to educate and inform people about the pain-relieving benefits of massage therapy. Volunteer to speak to community groups. Donate your services.
Become a community educator.
Being the expert source is a sure way to build your massage practice, agrees Kousaleos.“Go out and teach a little bit about how to take care of your own pain, using massage, ice therapy or special products,” he says. “Trying to help people eventually will stimulate more and more clients through the door, especially those with chronic pain.”
Let clients know that you can help with their pain by simply stating, “I can help you.” Use words that indicate your interest, concern, care and compassion, advises Vaughn. Always let clients know that you are available to provide good massage care for any of their pain conditions.
Pain patients are the most thankful for massage services, says Kousaleos. Many have been struggling with pain issues for years, perhaps caused by a long-ago auto accident or school sports injury.
Felicia Brown, LMBT concurs. “When they can get on the floor and play with their kid, and have that life-rewarding moment, they are going to be so grateful to you. If you take the time to see what kind of impact you really have on people’s lives — not just this moment, not just this hour, but from today forward — you’re going to find this career rewarding for a really long time.”
For additional research and resources regarding the use of massage therapy to facilitate pain relief, visit the Massage Therapy Foundation and the Wellness Evidence digest from the Global Wellness Institute!
- Massage Can Aid in Pain Relief. American Massage Therapy Association. https://www.amtamassage.org/statement6.html. Accessed September 18, 2017.
- Crawford C, Boyd C, Paat CF, et al. The Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part I, Patients Experiencing Pain in the General Population. Pain Medicine: The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. 2016;17(7):1353-1375. doi:10.1093/pm/pnw099.
- Field T. Massage Therapy Research Review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2014;20(4):224-229. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2014.07.002.
*Funding for this study was provided by the Massage Therapy Foundation, through support of the American Massage Therapy Association.