Massage Therapy Facts for Physicians

Americans are turning to therapeutic massage for relief from injuries and certain chronic and acute conditions, to help them deal with the stresses of daily life, and to maintain good health. In an August 1998 national survey of consumers by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC), 52 percent of the 1,007 adults surveyed said they think of massage as therapeutic and 19 percent said it feels good and is therapeutic.*

Medical professionals are becoming more knowledgeable about the efficacy and benefits of massage and are commonly integrating the services of massage therapists into patient care. According to a national survey conducted by the State University of New York at Syracuse, 54 percent of primary care physicians and family practitioners said they would encourage their patients to pursue therapeutic massage as a treatment. Of those, 34 percent said they are willing to refer the patient to a massage therapist.** And, health insurance companies, realizing the cost savings of massage, may cover sessions with a massage therapist when they are a prescribed aspect of treatment. In the 1998 consumer survey by ORC, of the 15 percent of adults who said they had discussed massage with their doctors, 76 percent reported that the physician responded positively to use of therapeutic massage.*

* From August 13, 1998 survey commissioned by AMTA
**Grant, W., Kamps, C., Blumberg, D., Hendricks, S., Dewan, M. Alt. Ther. In Health & Med.,1995

What Conditions May be Helped by Therapeutic Massage?

An increasing number of research studies show massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves range of motion, and increases endorphins (enhancing medical treatment). Although therapeutic massage does not increase muscle strength, it can stimulate weak, inactive muscles and, thus, partially compensate for the lack of exercise and inactivity resulting from illness or injury. It also can hasten and lead to a more complete recovery from exercise or injury.

People with the following conditions have reported that therapeutic massage has lessened or relieved many of their symptoms.

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Chronic and acute pain
  • Circulatory problems
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (including spastic colon, colic and constipation)
  • Headache
  • Immune function disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Myofascial pain
  • Premature infants
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Sports injuries (including pulled or strained muscles and ligaments)
  • Stress
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction Contraindications
    • Certain forms of cancer
    • Some cardiac problems
    • Infectious diseases
    • Phlebitis
    • Some skin conditions

Working With Massage Therapists Questions and Answers

Q. What is the minimum schooling required for a massage therapist?

A. In some states, this is determined by a regulatory body. AMTA requires minimum training of 500 hours of classroom instruction (at least 300 hours in massage therapy theory and technique, and a minimum of 100 hours of anatomy and physiology). Most states that regulate the profession require 500 or more hours of classroom instruction.

Q. Why isn’t there a national standard or requirement for someone to be a massage therapist?

A. As with most healthcare regulation, this is determined at the state level. Certification by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork is an indication that a massage therapist has the established and required hours of education, has passed a comprehensive written examination, and is qualified to enter the field.

Q. How many states regulate massage?

A. Twenty-nine states and DC currently regulate massage therapy. The number of states recognizing the need for regulation has doubled in the 1990s.

Q. What is the difference between AMTA and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork?

A. AMTA is the premier professional association representing the massage field. Founded in 1943, it has more than 37,000 members. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) administers the National Certification exam and certifies massage therapists who pass the exam and maintain their status through continuing education.

Q. Does AMTA certify or credential massage therapists?

A. AMTA does not certify or credential massage therapists.

Q. Are massage therapists being accepted on insurance provider panels?

A. As health plans recognize the efficacy of massage and its value, as well as the competency of massage therapists, the number of therapists on insurance provider panels is rapidly increasing.

Q. How do I determine what type of massage therapy my patients should have and whether they need to see someone who specializes in a particular massage or touch technique?

A The best approach is to find a qualified, professional massage therapist who can determine and/or recommend massage appropriate for the situation.

Q. If I send a patient to a massage therapist, will payment be the patient’s responsibility or will insurance reimburse for it?

A. This will vary with the patients’ health plans. More health plans now regard massage therapists as recognized providers. Check with the patient’s insurance, as with all referrals, to determine how payment will be coordinated.

Q. What does a massage therapist do that a physical therapist can’t/won’t do?

A. A physical therapist concentrates on rehabilitation of physical damage caused by illness and injury through the use of various devices and exercise. A massage therapist focuses on the normalization of soft tissues affected by stress, injury, and illness through the use of manual techniques that improve circulation, enhance muscular relaxation, relieve pain, reduce stress, or promote health and well-being. Massage therapists have extensive training specific to their field. Physical therapists have training in basic massage, but not the specialized education of massage therapists. AMTA requires and recommends that a professional massage therapist have a minimum of 500 hours of training in massage and related subjects.

Referring a Patient to a Massage Therapist Ask These Questions

• Are you currently licensed as a massage therapist in this state/municipality? Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia require licensing of massage therapists.

• Where did you receive your massage therapy training?

• Are you a graduate of a training program accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), or that is a School Member of AMTA?

• Do you have advanced training in any specific massage techniques?

• Are you certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork?

• Are you a member of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)? How do You Find a Qualified Massage Therapist?

• Find a Massage TherapistSM, a free service of the American Massage Therapy Association, helps consumers and medical professionals find qualified massage therapists.

• Founded in 1943, AMTA has more than 41,000 members in 30 countries. AMTA Professional Members have demonstrated a high level of skill and expertise through testing and/or education. AMTA Associate Members are working toward such qualifications. AMTA has a Code of Ethics and practice standards that promote the highest quality assurance in the profession.

• New AMTA Professional Members must be graduates of training programs accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA); have a current AMTA-accepted city, state or provincial license; or be Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.

Contact AMTA’s Find a Massage TherapistSM Locator Service Call: 888.843.2682


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