Massage – Healthcare or Personal Service

In the last few decades, a division developed in the profession between massage as a healthcare modality and massage as a personal care service. The boundaries between these styles are sometimes blurry and practitioners often practice both. However, an increasing number of therapists are choosing to identify with one aspect of the practice over the other. Each style has different professional and educational interests that can either merge or be quite disparate.

Healthcare Massage
Massage therapy has a long history in healthcare throughout parts of the world. However, in the United States, its use as a healthcare practice greatly diminished with the rise of technological medicine and the pharmaceutical industry in the early twentieth century. For example, although once an integral part of physical therapy, massage gradually became a much smaller part of this profession in the latter half of the twentieth century.

It wasn’t long ago that healthcare professionals in the United States scoffed at the idea of massage as a serious modality for a wide array of healthcare complaints ranging from musculoskeletal injury to pain management for cancer patients. Today, views are changing significantly. Groundbreaking studies on alternative medicine use by researchers such as David Eisenberg and Daniel Cherkin have shown a consistent pattern of both increased use and acceptance of massage as not only a viable healthcare modality, but a valuable one.1,2

Massage and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices are gaining interest with students in traditional medical schools, which is an indicator of even greater acceptance of these approaches by tomorrow’s physicians. An example of this came in June 2005 at the National Education Dialogue (NED) held at Georgetown University. This was a meeting of more than seventy healthcare professionals and educators from conventional medicine and nine CAM disciplines. These educators discussed how to integrate CAM training into future medical school curricula. As a fortunate participant, I was pleased at the warm reception we received from educators from some of the most prestigious medical schools in the country. Many seemed not only fascinated, but excited about the growth and potential of our emerging profession.

A picture of the profoundly expanding use of massage as a healthcare practice can be gleaned from several studies on the use of massage in the United States. Recent investigations show close to two hundred thirty million massage sessions were provided to American adults in 2006.3 Ineffective results in traditional medical treatment for musculoskeletal disorders has driven millions of Americans to seek better care through CAM approaches, such as massage therapy.

Another study on the practice patterns of massage therapists shows 60 percent of office visits to massage therapists each year are to address musculoskeletal symptoms,4 or roughly 138 million massage sessions. That is a huge number of massage sessions used specifically for healthcare, and the numbers are almost certain to continue rising.

For massage therapists wanting to make inroads into the traditional healthcare system in the United States, the outlook for this branch of the profession is bright. Practitioners offering treatment for pain and injury conditions, palliative care, and stress and anxiety will find their services in ever greater demand. In fact, consumer expectations in this regard are increasingly placing pressure on massage therapists in terms of skills.

Therapists offering healthcare massage are found in private clinics, sports settings, and other healthcare facilities. Increasingly, practitioners work in chiropractic and physical therapy clinics, doctors’ offices, hospitals, universities, or other healthcare establishments. Massage is also an integrated healthcare program in professional sports, dance, and other physically demanding professions. We can look for greater inclusion of massage in mainstream settings, such as hospitals and primary care health clinics. We can also expect massage to continue to garner greater respect, and thus referral, by traditional medical practitioners.

Personal Care Massage
Ask the average person what he thinks of when you mention massage therapy and he is likely to describe an image straight out of popular media–someone with a blissful expression getting pampered in a luxurious resort. This aspect of the profession is considered a personal care service–that which someone uses for overall wellness enhancement, general relaxation, and to feel good, not for specific pain, injury, palliative care, or other ailment.

A majority of practitioners offer personal care massage and work in diverse settings such as home-based practices, private clinics, spas, and high-end resorts. With the development of chair massage, a plethora of settings has emerged–from corporate offices to airports to malls.

By Whitney Lowe
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, January/February 2008. Copyright 2008. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.


The Hands of Faith Holistic Healing Centers into a peaceful retreat that offers a variety of healing modalities including, Naturopathy, Digestive Health/Enzyme Nutrition, Therapeutic Massage, and Energy Healing. We specialize in Detoxification/Anti-aging issues, and will work with any patient who is looking to optimize their health and get to the bottom on their chronic illness. Whether you are seeking help with a specific condition or unexplained symptoms, we will provide you with a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan to return you to optimal health. We would be honored if you would allow us to assist you along your healing journey.

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