When I was 22 (so, awhile ago), I turned my head funny picking a very unlucky penny off the floor. My neck ached for a couple of weeks so, being right out of college and not having a doctor in my new town, I went to an urgent care clinic for advice. The doctor felt my neck, did some range of motion exercises, and declared that I had arthritis, wrote me a painkiller prescription, and sent me on my way.
Not once did this doctor tell me, an otherwise healthy and active 22 year old woman to consider massage therapy, chiropractic, osteopathic manipulations, or other conservative forms of pain management. When I did seek out massage on my own and realized how powerful it was, I knew I needed to become a massage therapist to help others.
I’ve been researching the nation’s opioid addiction crisis and wondering why traditional health providers are still not more widely educated on the benefits of conservative measures of pain relief for non-specific pain (i.e. back pain that is not caused by an underlying factor such as cancer) when massage therapy has been proven in multiple studies to be effective in relieving many kinds of pain. I can almost give the doctor I saw back in 2002 a pass because massage therapy wasn’t as well-researched as it is today, but I feel like with our current information, there are no excuses.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (drugabuse.gov):
- From 1991-2013, opioid (Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Oxycontin) prescriptions rose from 76 to 207 million.
- From 1990-2010 overdose deaths from prescription opioids tripled (and were more common than deaths from heroin or cocaine).
- 14.4% of women are prescribed an opioid drug during pregnancy
Over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, 38 million of those need relief from persistent moderate to severe back pain (drugabuse.gov). Massage therapy has been proven effective in treatment of non-specific chronic low back pain (The Annals of Internal Medicine).
- 401 patients between the ages of 20 and 65 who had non-specific chronic low back pain for at least 3 months (rating a minimum of 3 out of 10 on a pain scale) received either general relaxation massage, structural (injury-specific) massage, or traditional medical care for 10 weeks.
- After results measured at 10 weeks after treatment and 26 weeks after treatment, participants who received massage fared significantly better than those who received traditional medical care without massage.
- There was no statistical difference between those who received general relaxation massage techniques and those who received structural massage techniques.
Massage Therapy Magazine cites several studies showing the efficacy of massage therapy for various types of pain and proposes that massage therapy can be a major player in helping to combat the opioid addiction epidemic by offering a conservative first line of treatment for pain.
While pain medications including opioids certainly have their place in patient care and are necessary for many people, we need to find a way to educate traditional healthcare providers that conservative treatments like massage therapy are effective. One way to start is by discussing massage therapy with your primary care provider. Last year, 16% of respondents in the American Massage Therapy Association 2015 industry study indicated that they discussed massage with their physician. If you have had positive benefits from massage, let them know! We also need to encourage teaching hospitals and massage therapists to continue to conduct sound research to further share what many people who get massage already know: It works!
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Massage Industry Fact Sheet 2015: American Massage Therapy Association https://www.amtamassage.org/infocenter/economic_industry-fact-sheet.html
Massage Magazine: Can Massage Help Combat the Opioid Epidemic? https://www.massagemag.com/can-massage-help-combat-opioid-epidemic-36842/
National Institute on Drug Abuse https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse
The Annals of Internal Medicine: A Comparison of the Effects of Two Types of Massage on Chronic Low Back Pain. 2011. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=747008