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Massage Therapy in a Hospital Setting


Renee Zagozdon, November 14, 2017 (Massage Therapy Journal)

From increased concern about the opioid epidemic to patients who are looking for more integrative, holistic ways to manage pain and anxiety while in the hospital, massage therapy in the health care setting is becoming a viable option for care-and is being supported by more and more research.

What this boon means is that massage therapists interested in working with hospitals have opportunities that might not have existed in the recent past. But with this opportunity also comes a need to fully understand the health care environment in general and the hospital environment more specifically.

Following, you'll find information about working in the hospital setting, including how massage therapy can help, what you can expect and what's expected of you.

How Massage Therapy Helps in the Hospital Setting


Pain management is both a critical and challenging issue for patients who are either about to undergo or are recovering from surgical or operative procedures. Still, if postoperative pain is effectively managed at the acute state or during immediate post-surgical periods, studies have found patients are often able to recover uneventfully and return to their normal daily activities.1

Even knowing this, a significant number of patients still transition into chronic post-surgery pain or persistent post-surgical pain, defined as pain lasting longer than two to three months after surgery.1,2

Other functional outcomes are also affected by uncontrolled post-surgery pain, mainly sleep, mood and quality of life.3 The fear and anxiety that patients preparing for surgery commonly feel also complicates both pre- and post-surgical pain management and increases the likelihood they'll develop chronic post-surgery pain.4,5

The good news, however, is that research is also showing massage therapy can help patients better manage pain. For example, a collaborative metaanalysis of research on massage therapy for pain, conducted by Samueli Institute and commissioned by the Massage Therapy Foundation with support from the American Massage Therapy Association, concluded that massage therapy can be effective for reducing pain intensity/severity and anxiety in patients undergoing surgical procedures.6

Additionally, a 2012 study published in The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery showed that massage therapy significantly reduces pain, anxiety and muscular tension in cardiac surgery patients while also enhancing relaxation, which may be especially needed in the hospital setting where patients may be dealing with pain for a variety of reasons. "The most common reason that massage therapy is requested is usually related to uncontrollable pain that the patient is experiencing," say Maegan Dollof and Stacey Gilbert, who are massage therapists at Centura Health Integrative Medicine.

Jennifer Hauschulz, BCTMB, Mayo Clinic Integrative Medicine and Health, agrees, explaining how she's seen firsthand how pain-especially postsurgical pain-can be helped by massage therapy.

Stress and Anxiety

There are many reasons why hospital patients may feel stress and anxiety, and, like pain, leaving these feelings unchecked can interrupt healing. "Many times the pain is exacerbated by the stress and anxiety that the patient is experiencing in the hospital," Dollof and Gilbert explain. "Spending 15-30 minutes with a patient providing massage therapy techniques can lower a patient's blood pressure and improve their oxygen levels while also decreasing the pain and anxiety they may be feeling."

Immobility and Sleeplessness

For some patients, hospital stays can be long, sometimes extending 100 or more days, according to Hauschulz, and massage therapy can help these patients better cope with some of the common side effects of long stays, like sleeplessness or restlessness.

Immobility, too, can be a big issue for patients who are there for surgery or older patients who are unable to leave their bed during a hospital stay. Muscle pain can result, and there is increased risk for conditions like bed sores, too. "Massage therapy provided to inpatients helps alleviate aches and pains associated with the lack of mobility," explains Dan Halpain, a hospital-based massage therapy instructor at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine San Diego. "It is used to increase circulation to extremities, reduce the formation of bed sores and improve sleep."


Just as sleeplessness could result from long hospital stays, hospitals can sometimes be very isolating, and massage therapy has the potential to help a patient better deal with feelings of loneliness. "[Hospital massage therapy] can help the patient not feel [as] isolated," says Jeremy Miller, a massage therapist at Allina Health Minnetonka Clinic. (Read her entire article here)

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