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Medical Wellness Archives

Therapeutic Massage for Healthcare Services

2004: Volume 1, Number 2

Christopher Breuleux, PhD, RMT

President, Medical Wellness Association


Massage is one of the oldest therapies known to mankind.  The oldest touch therapy records, dating back 4,000 years, document its medical use. The ancient Egyptians, Hindus, Persians, and Chinese applied forms of massage for many treatments and health conditions. Almost everyone, from newborns and children to seniors— even athletes—can enjoy the wellness benefits of therapeutic massage.

Massage therapy has been proven to be beneficial for both acute and chronic conditions such as low back pain, arthritis, bursitis, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, immunity suppression, infertility, smoking cessation, and depression. A growing number of physicians and healthcare practitioners prescribe massage treatments for their patients and clients.
Physicians also recommend massage for relief of stress and tension that can lead to illness and disease.

“The health benefits of massage are far-reaching,” says Les Sweeney, executive vice president of Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP). Recent studies show continuing growth of therapeutic massage programs in medical facilities. Research from the American Hospital Association (AHA) confirms the number of licensed or registered massage therapists working in medical centers has increased significantly in recent years.

Qualifications of Massage Therapists
In most states, massage therapists are required to graduate with a minimum of 500 hours from an accredited school of massage. They must pass a written and practical exam and obtain a license or certification in the state in which they practice. Massage therapists indicate their credentials with the designation RMT (Registered Massage Therapist). The increased regulation of massage makes physician referral and insurance reimbursement more common. Currently 33 states and the District of Columbia regulate massage therapy as a profession.

Types of Massage
Many consumers are confused by the more than 200 variations of massage, bodywork, and somatic therapies. Therapy categories include:

• Massage therapy. The application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body, generally intended to reduce stress and fatigue while improving circulation and relaxation.

• Bodywork. This includes various forms of touch therapies such as massage, structural integration, polarity, Rolfing, and Hellerwork. They often use manipulation, movement, and/or repatterning to effect structural changes to the body.

• Somatic. The term, meaning “of the body”, is often used to describe a mind-body or whole-body approach instead of a physical perspective alone.

Most varieties of massage therapy can be broken down into five basic categories:

1. Swedish and contemporary/Western massage

2. Oriental and Eastern massage

3. Structural/functional and movement integration

4. Neuromuscular, deep tissue, and sports massage

5. Medical massage


Most Common and Popular Types of Massage

Swedish massage. This is the predominant and most commonly used method of contemporary massage. This method, developed in Sweden and northern Europe, uses a system of long strokes, kneading, vibrating, and tapping techniques on the more superficial layers of muscles. It is designed to increase circulation and relaxation, which may improve healing and decrease swelling from an injury.

Neuromuscular massage. Varieties include trigger point massage and myotherapy. Therapists apply strong finger pressure on trigger points of pain, deep massage, and passive stretching of specific muscles.

Deep tissue massage. This approach is used to alleviate chronic muscle pain and soreness by friction and deep manipulation of soft tissues and muscles in problem areas.


• Sports massage. This uses techniques similar to those in deep tissue massage but is specifically adapted to the needs of athletes (both professional and the weekend variety). This massage often is used before or after sporting events as part of an athlete’s training, and to promote healing from injuries. It also benefits performance, recovery, and injury prevention.

Medical Massage. Medical massage, which differs from deep tissue and Swedish massage, is an adjunct to medical treatment to enhance the effectiveness of care. This form is beneficial as part of the physiological and psychological healing and rehabilitation process. Medical massage works for patients who have health problems or injuries that require physician or hospital care.

Massage therapy appears to be growing in public popularity and is gaining acceptance in the medical community. As a profession, massage is a scientifically proven health and medical modality that has gained widespread popularity and consumer value.


1. Berland, Theodore., Hospitals Embrace Massage, Massage Therapy Journal, January 2004, p60.
2. Beck, Mark., Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage, Milady Publishing, Albany, NY, 2002.


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(C) 2006 The Medical Wellness Association