A massage isn’t just a luxury anymore. It’s been proven to relieve many symptoms and diseases, and is being used more often for medical health and well-being.
“In my nine years, every one of my clients reports feeling better physically, emotionally and mentally after a massage,” says Monica McLain, owner and massage therapist at Time Well Spent in Cape Girardeau.
According to McLain, massage is a nonverbal form of communication that releases endorphins, improves circulation and boosts lymphatic flow, which is the body’s natural defense against toxins. Massages relieve stress, relieve migraine pain, lessen depression and anxiety, increase the cells that fight cancer, promote the healing of injured tissue and the breakup of scar tissue, and increase blood flow to areas of joint replacement, says McLain — among many other benefits.
“Massage therapy over the past few years has become more acknowledged and respected in the health care community,” adds Ashley Sullivan, a licensed massage therapist at Saint Francis Medical Center’s Fitness Plus. “I personally have seen a large increase of doctor referrals from anxiety-related conditions, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, muscle tension, sports injuries and more. … Massage is a large part of alternative health care and is a very important part of your overall well-being.”
Sullivan, who has worked in the spa industry and in medical settings, believes her clients are becoming more aware of the health benefits of massage therapy. At Saint Francis, she provides massage services to hospital patients and employees, Fitness Plus members, and even some who were referred by area doctors and physical therapists.
McLain performs massages on many infants and the elderly, including hospice patients, but says all ages and backgrounds can benefit from massage therapy. McLain uses massage for a wholistic approach to health care, she says, and believes massage and medical care should go hand-in-hand. Hospital massage programs are already common in states including Arizona, New Mexico, California, Utah and Washington, as well as some metro areas, including St. Louis.
Emily Holt, a licensed massage therapist at HealthPoint Fitness in Cape Girardeau and Jackson, performed massage therapy in medical settings for several years while living in Washington state. When she moved to Missouri, she was surprised by how differently massage is viewed in the health care field.
“It’s still up and coming. A lot of doctors look at it negatively, which is sad,” says Holt. “I come from Washington state, which is really forward in coming to a massage first before going to the doctor. … I really think in Missouri, unfortunately, it’s going to take more time to get more insurances to realize that massage is important and preventive.”
Like Sullivan, Holt has also done massage therapy in spa settings.
“I worked for a salon for three years. When the economy started going down, my massages went down,” she says. “Salons look at massage as a luxury, but with my education and training, I try to educate people about why it’s so important. You brush your teeth so you don’t get cavities. You take vitamins so you don’t get sick. You do massage to keep your body healthy so you don’t need surgery and major medication. It truly is to keep you healthy.”
At HealthPoint, Holt says she’s beginning to see more clients, and more repeat clients on regular massage schedules — a sign that massage is starting to be viewed more as a health routine than a luxury. And Holt says she likes working in a health care setting, along with dietitians, physical therapists and other health professionals, because she can help clients get all the care they need.
“I love being part of a health care team for that reason. If someone’s back hurts because they’re carrying around so much weight, they might need to see a dietitian,” says Holt. “It’s great to have the resources available to be able to help people in the right direction and say, ‘If I were you, I’d do this.’”
But again, McLain says the biggest problem for establishing hospital-based massage therapy is how to fund it. As a massage therapist, McLain cannot bill insurance for massage therapy. Hospital integration would also require educating medical providers about how massage therapy affects health, and educating massage therapists about how to work in a medical setting, something that’s not taught in massage school.
“I hope it goes mainstream, with both of us working together. That’s my goal. It’s about what’s best for the client and a preventive approach to well-being,” says McLain. “I think patients need to be able to make the choice. Whether it’s a placebo effect or not — and I don’t believe that it is — if massage makes them feel better, then it’s in the best interest of the patient.”