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Posted on 02-12-2017

Specialty certificate programs representing advanced education and training within a modality qualified as therapeutic massage and bodywork are benefitting today’s massage therapists and their clients. Often considered as requirements for specific populations such as seniors, athletes, infants and cancer patients and survivors, some outcome-based specialty modalities are referred to as “medical massage”.

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork is a nonprofit organization providing an accredited, voluntary certification beyond entry-level state licensure. It also approves continuing education providers that teach specialty techniques, including integrative health care, sports massage and military veteran massage. The result is therapies operating according to a national standard of excellence requisite for working in collaboration with doctors, chiropractors, wellness centers, retirement care communities and other medical settings. 

To maintain their status, therapists must complete 24 hours of continuing education and 100 hours of work experience, and pass a criminal background check every two years. Approved providers, such as Sharon Puszko, Ph.D., who in 2000 founded the Daybreak Geriatric Massage Institute, in Indianapolis, offers beginning and advanced weekend workshops for therapists on the complexities of physiological changes and technical skills required to work with geriatric or senior clients. She works out of three offices located in upscale retirement communities and teaches approved continuing education curricula throughout the U.S. as well as internationally. 

“Although the skills I teach are not taught in massage school, they are in demand at independent and assisted living facilities where massage is considered a vital aspect of health care,” says Puszko. “Older Americans represent the greatest challenge to massage therapists. For elderly residents, stretching and pulling on delicate skin and joints, as well as pushing one’s elbow into gluteus maximus muscles, are unacceptable approaches.” She explains that they might be called upon for a range of needs from helping prepare a 70-year-old marathoner for a race to reducing the stress of an exhausted hospice patient.

Geri Ruane is one of four founding directors of Oncology Massage Alliance, in Austin, Texas. She manages operations for the nonprofit that was created in 2011 to help therapists that volunteer to administer complimentary hand and foot massage therapy to cancer patients and caregivers in chemotherapy infusion rooms and prior to radiation treatment. The alliance offers financial assistance to licensed massage therapists for advanced training through approved third-party oncology massage classes and provides hands-on experience with cancer patients.

Ruane defines the essential aspects of an oncology massage therapist’s (OMT) skill set. “A properly trained therapist has an informed understanding of the disease itself and the many ways it can affect the human body; the side effects of cancer treatments, such as medications, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation; and the ability to modify massage techniques in order to adapt accordingly. Our main purpose is to reduce stress and provide emotional support for cancer patients and caregivers in radiation and infusion rooms.”

For example, an OMT will ask a patient about their cancer treatment history, including particulars of related individual health issues, prior to the massage. Hospitals in 35 states and Washington, D.C., now offer massage therapy to individuals during cancer treatment. MK Brennan, president of the Society for Oncology Massage created in 2007, in Toledo, Ohio is a registered nurse with a longtime practice in Charlotte, North Carolina. Brennan observes, “In nursing school, I was taught how to give a back rub, an aspect of patient care once provided by all nurses, but no longer part of a nurse’s education. It now appears that there could be a resurgence of interest in offering massage therapy in hospitals that would encompass more medical aspects and require modified techniques for different patient populations.”

In addition to oncology and geriatric massage, other select massage therapy modalities such as orthopedic, bodywork, Asian techniques and those related to pregnancy, infant and child healthcare as well as other special needs require advanced education and training.

Before making an appointment with a massage therapist/bodyworker for a specific type of help, inquire about their knowledge, experience, training and continuing education. Ask about additional credentials above entry-level core education specific to special needs.

Linda Sechrist is a senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings. Connect at ItsAllAboutWe.com.

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