A team approach to physical and mental health care

  • Masage and Myotherapy factsheets on Pain management and Positive mental health With a man holding his shoulder and a mature couple jogging
Massage & Myotherapy Australia
Ann Davey,
Chief Executive Officer

Conversations with our members often remind me of the role that professional remedial massage therapists, and myotherapists (therapists) play in assisting people to manage their mental and physical health.

For people living in rural areas, where remoteness is a significant factor in the mental health and wellbeing of farmers, professional qualified massage therapists may provide another care option.

An Australian study (Brew GB et al, 2016) found that, while there is little difference in physical health, all farmers were half as likely to visit a general practitioner (GP) or a mental health professional as compared to non-farm workers, regardless of location. Rural workers felt that they preferred to manage themselves rather than access help for physical or mental health needs.

Alongside this, we find that people who are active in managing their mental and physical health often turn to massage when seeking care more suited to their needs. This leads me to consider that while qualified massage therapists cannot replace the skills or competencies of medical practitioners, psychologists or psychiatrists, the management of physical and mental health requires a team approach that extends beyond GPs and mental health specialists.

A study that looked into referrals to massage therapy by GPs in rural and regional New South Wales, found low levels of opposition to the incorporation of massage therapies into patient care, with 76.6 per cent of GPs referring patients to massage therapy at least a few times per year and 12.5 per cent referring at least once per week (Wardle J et al).

The acceptance by rural doctors of massage therapy as a care or management option provides opportunity to expand the healthcare networks in support of rural and remote communities.

With a large network of qualified professional massage therapists and myotherapists already available, integrated solutions involving these therapies could have multiple flow-on benefits, such as truncating the need for more expensive interventions, and improving data collection and information for GPs and other health professionals about the benefits and applications of massage for pain and stress management.

Additionally, the relationship between physical and mental health is also well documented. The Australian Pain Management Association reports that people living with pain are more prone to psychological distress, such as anxiety and depression, than those in the general community. Not surprisingly, studies have also found that the presence of depression in a patient with chronic pain is associated with decreased function, poorer treatment response and increased healthcare costs.

Despite science not yet fully determining the physiological effects of massage, examination of pressure, movement, friction, touch and human interaction, as experienced in a massage setting, delivers consistent conclusions – that massage makes people feel better. It offers a sensory experience that relieves feelings of pain and low mood, and other health-related quality-of-life issues.

Studies have found that improving the quality of people’s daily lives through massage can have profound effects on their mental health. For example, improving a patient’s ability to walk with less pain, drive, engage in social activities and work, sleep or stay mobile, as well as maintaining social ties for older people or people with chronic disease, are profound improvements that warrant deeper investigation.

Importantly, while massage therapy is not a cure, it does offer another physical and mental health care and management option that is under-utilised in rural and remote communities.

For more information, Massage & Myotherapy Australia’s website provides a Massage Knowledge Centre for GPs and other health professionals.

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