Massage Therapy Canada

Features Finance Management
Linking Massage Therapy To Public Health And Primary Health Care Initiatives

The Canadian health care system is re-orientating itself to include greater emphasis in the areas of public health and primary health care. Both of these domains are striving for better collaboration so as to improve population health.

October 1, 2009  By Kevin D. Willison M.A.

The Canadian health care system is re-orientating itself to include greater emphasis in the areas of public health and primary health care. Both of these domains are striving for better collaboration so as to improve population health. This is a welcomed change, howbeit transpiring slowly, though promoted by an increasing recognition that health care needs are best met through multi-disciplinary and integrative health care (IHC) approaches (Willison et al., 2005a).

Public health and primary health care both place emphasis towards meeting the contemporary health care needs of people. Both seek means to provide and improve such areas as health promotion, multi-disciplinary health care, multi-sector collaboration, comprehensive care, chronic disease management and, ways to improve self-care, mobility and independence.

Associated with this, and of great importance to the massage therapy profession as a whole, is the recognition that these initiatives support independent living through such means as finding ways to develop, maintain and/or augment physical function and/or relieve pain. In short, they support the scope of practice of massage therapy, as outlined in the Massage Therapy Act (1990, c. 27, s. 3). As such, new public health and primary health care initiatives, which are backed by the Ministry of Health and other Federal and Provincial government funding and policy mechanisms, have the potential to further encourage the integration of complementary and alternative health care, such as massage, into mainstream (conventional) medicine (Willison, 2005; Willison and Andrews, 2005).

Licensed massage therapists have been active for many years towards contributing to what is now the new emphasis in conventional health care.


In as much as therapists must become increasingly aware of what public health and primary health care
entail (e.g. as reviewed in part in, public health and primary health care practitioners also need to improve their knowledge base as to what massage therapy entails.

As such, creative ways are needed to disseminate the message that licensed therapists have the potential to: 1. enhance the independence of individuals so as to help reduce institutionalization and, thereby costs; 2. improve people’s quality of life, e.g. ambulation, dexterity, physical function (Kopec and Willison, 2003), including the potential to reduce pain, improve circulation, reduce prescription drug use, reduce risk of injury (e.g. from falls), and so forth (Mayo, 2005). Massage therapy (MT), of course, has limitations and potential contraindications, as do all therapies and interventions.

Yet, increased use of MT with conventional approaches may also provide innovative means to enhance care provision, particularly to those who cannot be cured (Willison and Andrews, 2004; Willison et al., 2005b).

It is towards such improvements to the provision of quality and appropriate health care to support independent living that, increasingly, public health and primary health care experts are keenly interested in to provide. Pursuant to this, massage therapists have a great deal to offer.


  • Kopec, J.A., Willison, K.D. (2003). A comparative review of four preference-weighted measures of health-related quality of life. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology; 56:317-325.
  • Mayo (2005). Massage and health – Hands-on care. Mayo Clinic Health Information, Mayo Clinic Health Letter; 23 (1): 4-5.
  • Willison, K.D., Mitmaker, L., Andrews, G.J. (2005a). Integrating Complementary and Alternative Medicine With Primary Health Care Through Public Health To Improve Chronic Disease Management. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine; 2 (1). The Berkeley Electronic Press (bepress). On-line:
  • Willison, K.D., Andrews, G.J., Cockerham, W.C. (2005b). Life Chance Characteristics of Older Users of Swedish Massage. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice; In Press.
  • Willison, K.D. (2005). Integrating complementary and alternative medicine into primary healthcare in Canada: Barriers and opportunities. Journal of Cancer Integrative Medicine; In Press.
  • Willison, K.D., Andrews, G.J. (2005). The Potential of Public Health to Enhance Chronic Disease Management. Public Health, In Press.
  • Willison, K.D., Andrews, G.J., (2004). Complementary medicine and older people: past research and future directions. Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery; 10: 80-91.
  • Kevin D. Willison, M.A. ( (Institute for Life Course and Aging, University of Toronto, Toronto Canada)

Print this page


Stories continue below