Research Roundup: Massage Therapy Can Reduce the Cost of the National Opioid Crisis

New research indicates the use of massage therapy instead of opioid medication (for conditions where massage is proven effective) can reduce costs to the American economy by up to $25.99 billion annually. These are the results of an economic modeling analysis commissioned by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)1.

This analysis examines the costs and benefits of replacing opioid pain killers with massage therapy where evidence indicates it is appropriate and effective. The President's Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) estimated that in 2015, the cost of the opioid crisis was $504 billion2.  According to the Joint Commission3, non-pharmacologic approaches such as massage therapy can replace opioids for many types of pain. The number of patients who could be treated either by massage therapy or opioid prescriptions was determined through analysis of data published by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in a 2015 report4.

The number of individuals with the potential to benefit from massage therapy can be as many as 5 million patients in the U.S., with the potential to reduce the number of people with addiction disorder by 111,137 per year. This projection suggests providing massage therapy as a tool for pain management instead of opioids could save the United States between $23.59 and $25.99 billion annually in social and economic costs associated with early death, treatment and crime prevention. 

According to John Dunham of John Dunham & Associates which conducted the research and analysis, "The opioid addiction epidemic impacts real people in a way that not only harms their families, but also leads to negative economic consequences. This analysis uses reasonable and moderate assumptions, as well as the best data available from both government and academic sources to calculate that incorporating massage therapy into pain management practices would not only be cost effective, but could also benefit the American economy by up to $25.99 billion annually." 

"This model is a valuable method to examine how the use of massage therapy for certain types of pain, instead of addictive opioids, can have a significant economic impact on our country," says AMTA President, Joan Nichols. "More economic research is needed to learn just how effective this change can be financially, as we already know through clinical research studies that massage therapy is an effective approach for many types of pain."

Massage therapy is an effective and cost-efficient pain management approach. Encouraging medical practitioners to prescribe its use where it would be an effective pain management tool, and insurance companies to cover massage therapy can significantly impact the opioid problem in the U.S., and decrease the costs associated with it.


  1. American Massage Therapy Association, Massage Therapy in Integrative Care & Pain Management, August 2018.

  2. President's Council of Economic Advisers, The Underestimated Cost of the Opioid Crisis, November 17, 2017.

  3. The Joint Commission, The Joint Commission Elevates Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Massage, and Relaxation in Pain Care in Response to Integrative Team's Advocacy, Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal, April 2015

  4. Center for Medicare & Medicaid Service, DRG Summary for Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payments Hospitals, FY2015, August 30, 2017, and Center for Medicare & Medicaid Service, APC Summary for Medicare Outpatient Prospective Payment System Hospitals, CY2015, August 30, 2017.

"AMTA has been a tremendous resource over the years."

Jenn S., AMTA member since 1994