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Features Practice Technique
From the Editor: Spring 2013

Is massage therapy a complementary and alternative (CAM) specialty?


April 10, 2013
By Maria DiDanieli

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Is massage therapy a complementary and alternative (CAM) specialty?

In health-care literature, scientific or otherwise, authors often classify massage therapy (MT) as CAM. This is certainly the case when they are not MTs themselves, but is true even when they are. Furthermore, when medically based researchers – even those who position themselves as advocates – give presentations relating to MT, they use the term CAM to describe the profession. It seems that the tendency to slot MT into the category of CAM has become ubiquitous.

So what, you ask?

Linguistic theories suggest that the terminology used to describe an entity – for example the classification of massage therapy as complementary or alternative, as opposed to simply referring to it as a manual therapy – relates to society’s impressions of that entity and perhaps even influences how it is perceived (and therefore, when it is sought out or offered). And so, although MT has a very rich history of clinical experience and a growing body of research demonstrating how it can integrate into mainstream health care, I would argue that when medical professionals – especially massage therapists themselves – persist in referring to it as CAM, they encode in the minds of the public, and the profession, biased notions of limited utility.

We have, in our pages, often discussed massage therapists taking the reins and becoming leaders in the process of their profession’s growth, working from within to educate one another, the medical community and the public regarding the benefits that MT can offer. Even with MT evidence being in a relatively early stage, it is possible to offer solid arguments, backed up by initial findings, for its safety and inclusion in treating patients in a variety of clinical situations. The groundwork is there for the profession to springboard its way back into mainstream health care, where it flourished throughout many periods in time, and in a number of cultures! This leap will involve shifting the opinions of health-care professionals and the public regarding MT’s role in today’s health and wellness strategies. Why not lead the way in this process by dropping the inherently restrictive CAM nomenclature?

The time has come for you to redirect the perception others have regarding what you do and its role in health care. This involves educating those you aspire to work with, but you must begin by rethinking how you define your own level of value. You are part of a health-care approach that could work in concert with other disciplines, in either a supportive or a leadership role depending on the situation at hand.

The next step is to take control of all aspects of your message so that somebody else does not have the opportunity to do so. As such, to confine yourself – or to allow the greater health-care community to confine you – to the category of an adjunctive therapy, or among a lost-and-found of curiosities to explore if nothing else works(!), is not only selling yourself short and restricting how you’re perceived by other practitioners and/or the public. . . it’s also depriving potential patients of the opportunity to access the very real benefits that can be derived from what you do.

So, are you CAM? Whether you, and others, see you that way . . . is really up to you!

Bien à vous,


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