Military veterans often face a host of health concerns upon returning from service, including chronic pain, combat injuries, and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Explore recent research, which shows that massage therapy supports the health and well-being of our U.S. veterans.
National Survey Reveals that Veterans Are Using Massage Therapy for Pain and Stress Reduction
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the nation’s largest healthcare system, has been at the forefront of providing Complementary and Integrative Health (CIH) approaches for pain management for years now. In a recent national survey of veterans who regularly use the VHA, 44% indicated that they have received massage therapy, while 37% used chiropractic care, and 34% participated in mindfulness exercises. Veterans cited pain and stress reduction/relaxation as the two most frequent reasons for using these CIH approaches.1
Study Indicates that Massage Therapy Helps Female Veterans with Pain and Anxiety
Female veterans experience higher rates of chronic pain, depression and anxiety in comparison to male veterans. In a 2022 pilot study, in which effleurage massage was administered to female veterans attending gynecology appointments, results indicated that massage therapy may be an effective and safe treatment for pain and/or anxiety when integrated into women’s healthcare.2
Case Study: Massage Therapy Benefits a Veteran with Combat Injuries and PTSD
The number of veterans wounded in combat has been increasing and requires a multidisciplinary approach for comprehensive treatment. In a recent case study, a male veteran received a series of seven, 60-minute full body massages for a combat-related shoulder injury, over the course of eight weeks. The results of the case study showed that massage therapy provided meaningful benefits, including increased shoulder mobility, for a veteran with a combat injury and PTSD.3
AMTA Advocates for Veterans to Gain Better Access to Massage Therapy
AMTA has met with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to support better funding and access to massage therapy for veterans. We collaborate with veteran researchers and work with our members directly on regional issues affecting veterans. AMTA has also been an ongoing member of the stakeholder coalition: Friends of Veterans (FoVA) to help endorse access to complementary and integrative health (CIH) services for veterans, including massage therapy.
“AMTA aims to help more veterans experience the health benefits of massage therapy firsthand, as it is a covered benefit when deemed clinically necessary by their care team, per the VHA Directive 11374. As a U.S. veteran myself, I’m deeply invested in advocating for all veterans to have access to the best integrative healthcare options available,” says James Specker, Senior Director, AMTA Government & Industry Relations and United States Marine Corps Veteran.
How to Find a Professional Massage Therapist
Finding a professional massage therapist is vital to a positive massage therapy experience. AMTA massage therapists have demonstrated a level of ability through education and/or testing, adhere to a code of ethics and meet continuing education requirements. AMTA offers a free professional massage therapist locator service at findamassagetherapist.org.
 Taylor SL, Hoggatt KJ, Kligler B. Complementary and Integrated Health Approaches: What Do Veterans Use and Want. J Gen Intern Med. 2019 Jul;34(7):1192-1199. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-04862-6. Epub 2019 Apr 22. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31011973/
 Mitchinson A, Fletcher CE, Trumble E. Integrating Massage Therapy Into the Health Care of Female Veterans. Fed Pract. 2022 Feb;39(2):86-92. doi:10.12788/fp.0223. Epub 2022 Feb 9. PMID: 35444384; PMCID: PMC9014938. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35444384/
 Rosenow M, Munk N. Massage for Combat Injuries in a Veteran with Undisclosed PTSD: A Retrospective Case Report. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2021 Mar; Published online 2021 Mar 1.PMCID: PMC789233 PMID: 33654501 Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33654501/
 VA Directive 1137 — Provision of Complementary and Integrative Health (recertified December 2022) establishes national VHA policy regarding the provision of CIH approaches. https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTH/professional-resources/clinician-tools/cih.asp