Massage Therapy and the Opioid Epidemic

If you haven’t been personally affected by our nation’s opioid epidemic, you’ve most certainly heard the frightening statistics surrounding the now controversial pain management treatment. According to the Center for Disease Control, an average of 130 people die every day from an opioid overdose. An equally grim statistic reports that of all 70,200 deaths in 2017 from drug overdose, 68% were from opioids.

What are Opioids? Opioids are a drug class that includes hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, heroin and codeine. They act on the body’s opioid receptors and essentially replace the natural pleasure chemicals, endorphins and enkephalins.

What’s the Problem? This effective pain management technique is not in itself bad, when managed correctly. However, the drugs are highly addictive. After a consistent flow of these synthetic endorphins, they cause the body to stop producing its own natural chemicals. As the body develops a tolerance to the medication, the individual must gradually increase dosage to achieve the same effects. When stopping the medication, it can trigger severe depression and other intense withdrawal symptoms, not to mention the return of the patient’s pain.

*What’s the response? * Given the pervasiveness of opioid abuse in the United States, governmental agencies, including the CDC and a myriad of health organizations are now investigating alternative pain management techniques, in an effort to treat the root cause of the epidemic, poorly managed pain. According to American Massage Therapists Association, massage therapy as an integrated approach or primary treatment can reduce medical costs and help to avoid dependence on opioids for pain management. Massage therapy is also now included in the nonpharmacological pain guidelines for The Joint Commission, American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards.

In 2016 the Evidence for Massage Therapy Working Group, evaluated the existing scientific findings on the effectiveness of massage therapy on pain patients. Their review found that, “massage therapy will not remove the need for medications in pain management and it will not be an appropriate therapy for every pain patient, but it should be considered as a routine complementary (not alternative) part of an individualized, multimodal, and stepped care pain plan for pain management. In short, massage therapy is the evidence-based new thinking that will, with other integrative, non-pharmacologic approaches, help pain medicine overcome the current opioid-focused old thinking that has devastated so many lives.”

How does massage therapy help?
Relaxes painful muscles tendons and joints.
Relieves stress, anxiety and assists in overcoming depression.
May stop pain by stimulating nerve fibers and preventing pain signals from reaching and leaving the brain.
Increases body awareness to help the client identify and explore their pain experience.

If you or someone you know would like to develop a pain management plan, consult your doctor and contact our staff of experienced massage therapists.

Chester Buckenmaier, III, MD Jerrilyn Cambron, DC, PhD Ruth Werner, BCTMB Pamela Buckenmaier, RN, LMT Christopher Deery, LMT Jan Schwartz, MA, BCTMB Pete Whitridge, BA, LMT (2016, July 1). Massage Therapy for Pain—Call to Action.

Harvard Health Publishing (2016, July). Therapeutic massage for pain relief.