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Published in the November 2008 edition of Massage Today, Ralph Stevens, B.S., LMT, NCTMB gives us some insight into the big financial picture in his article Economic Crisis: Be Aware: Get Prepared. As Stevens describes, “Many businesses and industries have run aground because they had the wrong perception of their place and purpose in the market, especially during times of economic change and crisis. For example, at one time railroad companies thought they were in the railroad business. They didn’t realize until it was almost too late that they were really in the transportation business. Once they adapted to that larger paradigm, the ones that survived did much better.”

In the example Stevens lays out, the way to outsmart a seemingly dismal trend is to figure out what the consumer is looking for. When it comes to the railroad business, people were not particular about riding a train – they just wanted the best deal for getting where they wanted to go. By transposing this perspective on the massage therapy profession, it appears that people will not be particular about receiving massage – as long as they get the best deal for their desired wellness objective.

For all but the wealthiest families, finding the least expensive option for health and wellness will become increasingly common. In times of financial stress, a preferred modality for health maintenance or prevention emerges as less critical than its effect. Thus, choosing massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, Reiki or nutritional support for achieving a goal will depend on the bottom line – which therapy delivers results for the least amount of money. Hence, the most cost-effective therapies will dominate complementary and alternative healthcare.

If you can demonstrate that massage’s expense will save your clients money in the long run, your position in a consumer’s budget moves from a luxury to a prudent buy as a necessary part of health maintenance and injury recovery. Prior to the explosion of massage therapy studies proving the therapeutic applicability of bodywork, massage was often considered a luxury. Unfortunately, those who have not kept up with recently published research may not be aware of massage’s medical value. Because luxuries are first to be axed out of a strained budget, relaxation based massage sessions may be considered an excessive expenditure of cash for those who don’t know about its potential influence on their health. However, massage therapists who educate people on the value of their work and promote the cost-effectiveness of their treatments will benefit most from today’s financial crunching.

Sparing those covered by a few honorable insurance companies, most American consumers bear the entire cost of complementary therapies out-of-pocket. Growing evidence supports the value that massage therapy offers to integrated health systems for a range of patient health conditions, patient care, and reduction of overall costs. Following are a few examples of emerging opportunities for massage therapy in integrative healthcare systems:

  1. Post-surgery – Published in the May/June 2007 edition of Clinical Nurse Specialist: The Journal for Advanced Nursing Practice, a study of cardiac surgery patients found that massage therapy improved client’s mobility post-surgery by:
  • decreasing pain
  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • increasing overall sense of well-being

The authors concluded that massage therapy was cost-effective due to the consequences of increased mobility – namely by enhancing the patient’s motivation to get well, which sped up the patient’s safe dismissal from the hospital. Although the application of this study first appears narrow, it can open up many opportunities for promoting massage therapy’s cost effectiveness by reducing reliance on expensive Western medical treatments or facilities. In 2009, another study found that over 50% of postoperative cardiovascular surgery patients receiving massage had significantly decreased pain, anxiety and tension.

Other research indicates that massage therapy following surgery can boost the immune system by increasing the production of the body’s natural “killer T cells,” which fight off tumors and viruses.

One study from 2011 found that patients receiving massage therapy following thoracic surgery had significantly decreased pain scores after massage. All recipients responded favorably to massage as an additional pain management component.

  1. Back pain – Published in the June 2003 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers evaluated the effectiveness, safety and costs of the most popular complementary and alternative medical therapies used to treat back pain. Although categorized as just a preliminary conclusion, the investigating team found that massage therapy, but not acupuncture or spinal manipulation, was able to reduce the cost of care after only one therapeutic session. This information is extremely valuable to those suffering with back pain. Since one or several massages could help back pain just as much or more than a full, costly series of a different modality, consumers are likely to recognize massage therapy as the more affordable choice.
  1. Other conditions – According to the American Massage Therapy Association, research continues to show that massage therapy can be effective in health and wellness regimens that both prevent and improve medical conditions, thereby improving patient outcomes. Massage can aid in healing and rehabilitation following bodily injury. In concert with physical therapy and other treatment plans, massage therapy can help reduce pain and improve range of motion in patients dealing with injuries.

Athletes have long been included in recovery plans involving massage therapy. A 2008 review of literature on sports injuries includes several studies where athletes with injuries such as ligament tears and sub-acute back pain were able to recover fully from these injuries through various therapies including massage. Research published in Science Translational Medicine showed that massage therapy following exercise attenuated production of cellular inflammatory signals in muscle tissue, thereby supporting post-exercise healing and making a strong case for massage therapy as part of the wellness regimen for athletes and others.

The frequency of use of massage therapy for people injured in the workplace suggests a high level of national recognition of the value of massage therapy in helping people return to productivity. In 2013, the Department of Labor recognized the potential benefit of massage therapy in helping injured employees under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA), which provides compensation to those who work on certain high risk jobs for the Department of Energy. The Department cited “reducing pain and muscle tension, increasing flexibility and range of motion, and improving blood circulation” as potential benefits of massage.

Other areas where massage therapy in collaboration with other therapies can be beneficial include:

  • Scar management
  • Joint replacement rehab
  • Cancer management

With so much uncertainty and fear about the economy, it’s easy to panic that your regulars might become less regular and that new clients will be harder to find. However, by understanding why your services would become even more attractive during this global financial hardship, you can begin your campaign to educate consumers and businesses. Once people understand that massage therapy will reduce their overall health expenditures and play an important role in health and wellness regimens, your services are sure to be a priority in an increasing number of household and corporate budgets.

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