Massage Therapy in the Hospital Setting

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With the growing popularity of complementary and alternative medicine services in hospitals, licensed massage therapists have more career options today than ever before. The massage therapy and bodywork profession is on the rise in general with 120,000 to 160,000 people practicing massage therapy and bodywork in the U.S., more than 80,000 of them nationally certified. Many hospitals have taken notice of the benefit of massage therapy and are giving it a place in their treatment systems.

For the first time since its inception in 1998, the annual survey of the American Hospital Association singled out massage therapy. The survey found that a large number of consumers and health care providers are using massage therapy and bodywork for pain management and for other important health issues. This provides more licensed massage therapists the opportunity to enter the hospital setting and further expand their skills and promote the profession.

Massage is among the most popular complementary and alternative medicine therapies offered in hospitals. Of the 1,007 hospitals responding to the survey, 82 percent of the hospitals offering complementary and alternative medicine therapies included massage therapy among their health care options, more than 70 percent of which utilize it for pain management and pain relief.

"These numbers clearly demonstrate that a greater number of people and medical professionals are recognizing that massage is more than a means for pampering or relaxation," said Brenda L. Griffith, president of American Massage Therapy Association, a partner in the survey. "Massage therapy has numerous health benefits including the ability to relieve pain - whether it be lower back pain, other muscle or joint pain, or for pain following surgeries. And, an increasing number of people among all age groups seek the therapeutic benefit of massage."

As more hospitals and patients learn about the health benefit of massage and complementary and alternative medicine, opportunities for licensed massage therapists in hospital settings increase. Medical centers can be a rewarding and educational environment, furthering a massage practitioner's skills and abilities, but they can also pose big challenges to therapists who are used to autonomy.

Success in a hospital setting is dependent on how well the practitioner adapts to the faster-paced environment and how well they are able to interact with a large staff of health care workers. In a medical setting, patients are cared for by a team rather than the one-on-one arrangement of a private practice. This can increase the sense of community, but can be an adjustment from other massage venues.

Other challenges to the autonomous practitioner include less control of factors such as interruptions, noise and time limitations; more stringent rules and regulations; differing principles such as in a Christian hospital versus a government or community medical center; the unpredictability, rhythms and pace of hospital life; and the equality of care system in which practitioners cannot refuse service to anyone.

The scope of practice is another area in which autonomy is challenged. Advice or guidance outside of specified roles, such as offering nutritional supplements, essential oil treatments, guided imagery and visualization therapies can conflict with the work of other members of the health care team. It also may come into conflict with the culture, beliefs and regulations of the hospital.

The rewards and benefits of hospital work will far outweigh the difficulties or setbacks for many licensed massage therapists.

"Massage therapists are helping to heal patients, staff and the entire medical system by simply and profoundly reminding people through touch, of the place of stillness and compassion within us all - the inner spark and connection with divinity from which all healing flows," said Laura Koch, founder and director of the Hospital Based Massage Network.

Massage Magazine notes that although it may take time to adjust to the hospital, as well as establish rapport and trust with patients and hospital staff, eventually "the bodyworker will literally be greeted with big smiles and open arms." There can't be a more rewarding work environment than that.

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