Is ALL Massage Just Palliative Care?

Palliative: Medical care that relieves pain, symptoms and stress caused by serious illnesses, improving patients' quality of life. ~

...Offers pain and symptom management and emotional and spiritual support when you face a chronic, debilitating or life-threatening illness. ~

Is ALL massage just palliative care? What started this inquiry is my disillusionment with evidence-based medicine. I have recently viewed many posts citing “massage myths”. These center around whether or not there is sufficient "evidence" that massage has any influence on "toxins" (let's call them cellular metabolites and have a different conversation) or if drinking water is helpful after massage (only if you don't already drink enough water, so probably YES). I'm tired of being told there is "not sufficient evidence" that massage improves anything, except to reduce pain.


After watching the living-fascia-in-motion video “Strolling Under the Skin” by Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau, I no longer believe we currently have the technology available to adequately study the effects of massage in a cost effective manner. Massage is potentially treating fascia and lymph fluid at a microscopic level. No massage therapists have access to this level of micro technology to truly see how fascia is being altered by massage. At least not in a way that will “prove” to Newtonian scientists that massage is an invaluable medical treatment. The video refers to fascial structure as “fractal chaos”. Our current “double blind study” methodology is primitive when compared to the quantum physics involved in such a dynamic system.

That being said, so what?? Billions of dollars are spent on massage each year (AMTA Industry Fact Sheet). I cannot argue with the evidence of capitalism. If massage wasn’t beneficial for many conditions, people would not pull hard-earned money out of their pockets to spend on it. I choose to treat each of my clients as an experiment of n=1. That does not mean that I do not study massage techniques, theory and research in developing my treatments with clients. But the primary qualities I look for in a treatment are “Is it helping without harming?” not, "Does a (questionably sponsored) study tell me it works?"

So let’s say that massage doesn’t “fix” ANYTHING. It is completely ineffective in altering any medical condition whatsoever. The power of palliating symptoms can be the difference between life and suicide for some clients. I recently received a thank you card from a client stating “…not sure I could have made it through that period without you.” I will defer to higher minds than mine to develop a statistically significant experiment demonstrating that particular effect of massage.

In the 21st century, the medical model is moving toward teamwork, with a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. Perhaps massage therapy - in and of itself - is not the cure-all we would like it to be. However, when it is mixed with other types of bodywork (osteopathy, acupuncture, psychology, physical therapy, etc) in a holistic manner, how could that synergy change the results? Perhaps 1 + 1 = 3?

Diminishing the power of massage strictly because the effects cannot be documented on a piece of paper in a linear way is short-sighted. It also gives insurance companies more ammunition to deny coverage for massage therapy. Some other questions that we could be asking instead:

  • How are clients more consistent with their other medical treatments when they are made more comfortable through massage?
  • How does the effect of touch improve the mindset of clients such that they appreciate their bodies and make other healthy, positive changes in their lifestyle?
  • How many toxic pain medicines were avoided due to the pain relieving effects of massage?

Apparently these anecdotal effects are worth billions of dollars to citizens in the US, but only worth about $58 per hour to Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

And I will always see them as priceless.


PS: If the term "Palliative Care" confuses you, please please register for Meg Robsahm's hospice massage and oncology massage classes. She magically makes these intimidating topics simple, yet profound. Her Master's in Education was clearly earned - her teaching style engages all types of learners. I have enjoyed every minute of class I have spent with her.