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Massage Therapy as an Alternative to Opioids

Prescription opioids carry serious risk of addiction, abuse, and overdose, in addition to a number of side effects, even when taken as directed. According to the Centers for Disease Control, deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999.  

For that reason, a number of health organizations and governmental agencies are seriously looking at alternative ways to manage pain.

The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) continues to be actively engaged with several organizations and agencies regarding massage therapy for pain and specifically as an alternative to opioids.

In the News: Massage as an Alternative to Opioids

  • February 2, 2018 – For more than a year, AMTA has actively engaged with several important agencies regarding massage therapy for pain as a valuable alternative to opioids, to combat the epidemic in this country. In the fall of 2017, AMTA met with a representative and provided feedback to the FDA regarding the important role massage therapy can play. The new FDA guidelines released this week call on health care providers to be informed on the range of therapeutic options for managing pain, including non-pharmacologic approaches and therapies. While the FDA is not specific about these approaches, the National Institutes of Health has for several years included massage therapy among its list of complementary therapies.
  • Fall 2017 – The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking public comment on the "FDA Education Blueprint for Health Care Providers Involved in the Management or Support of Patients with Pain".  Learn more »
  • Consumer Reports  discusses massage therapy as an approach to low back pain.
  • September 2017 – 37 US Attorneys General call for Inclusion of Massage in Insurance Coverage. See the coverage in ABC News, and read the letter from the attorneys general.
  • NBC medical correspondent Dr. John Torres reports on the Today Show that the CDC recommends massage therapy, NSAIDS and acupuncture as an alternative to opioids. Watch the Today Show Segment »

Clinical Recommendations - Massage Therapy for Pain

  • The American College of Physicians issued guidelines recommending massage therapy for low-back pain in 2017.
  • The Federation of State Medical Boards issued recommendations in April 2017 on approaches to pain, including massage therapy among non-pharmacologic therapies.
  • Since November 2014, The Joint Commission hospital standards for non-pharmacologic strategies for pain include the use of massage therapy. [Joint Commission Perspectives, Volume 34, Number 11, November 2014, pp. 11-11(1). Clarification to Standard PC.01.02.07]

Academy of Integrative Pain Management

AMTA has worked with the Academy of Integrative Pain Management to foster ongoing dialog on integration of massage therapy into approaches to pain, instead of using opioids. Their March/April 2017 issue of The Pain Practitioner includes an article by AMTA President Dolly Wallace on the benefits of massage therapy for people with arthritis.

The spring 2018 issue of The Pain Practitioner includes an article by AMTA Past President Dolly Wallace on massage therapy as an alternative to opioids for pain. 

Helping Government Address Opioid Use

  • On March 14, 2018, AMTA representatives met wih senior staff at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The meeting focused on the necessity of increasing the amount of massage therapy research, as massage therapy has become more accepted as an important approach to managing pain.
  • In late 2017 and early 2018, AMTA provided detailed information on the efficacy of massage therapy for pain to the U.S. House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee and its Energy & Commerce Committtee, as they prepare for hearings related to the opioid crisis.
  • AMTA worked directly with the West Virginia Attorney General for a program to reduce use of opioids for pain. The state is very positive about the incorporation of massage therapy in a list of approaches to pain that can help stop the rampant use of opioids there – the highest in the country.

The state public education program includes a recommendation of massage therapy as a first-line approach vs. opioids. As a result, AMTA has been actively discussing a similar approach with legislators in an increasing number of states.

  • We also connected the state officials in West Virginia with researchers in Kentucky working on this same subject. We have had an ongoing relationship with researchers at the University of Kentucky for educational roundtables in West Virginia and Kentucky. They recently published some of their results, showing the value and efficacy of massage as a substitute for opioids.
  • In December 2017, AMTA submitted recommendations to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (an agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) for inclusion of research on massage therapy for chronic pain, to be included in their analysis and recommendations for non-pharmacologic approaches.
  • In October 2017, AMTA was an exhibitor at the Appalachian Opioid Conference and met with state officials from multiple states about how to integrate massage therapy into non-pharmacologic approaches to pain as a counter to the national opioid epidemic.

Research & Resources Supporting Massage for Pain Management

Massage vs. Opioids fact sheet »

The Massage Therapy Foundation and Samueli Institute research meta-analysis funded by AMTA, will help continue conversations on this important topic.

Resources for Massage Therapists

Current Research on the Health Benefits of Massage Therapy

Communicating + Collaborating with Health Care Professionals

Low Back Pain & Massage Therapy | 2.5 CE Credits

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