By Debra Wood, RN, NurseZone contributor
As more people turn to massage for its documented health benefits, a growing
number of nurse massage therapists are combining the modality with their nursing
acumen to promote healing.
"We’re on a high, sharp upward trend, because people are interested in
prevention and something other than prescription drugs and surgery," said
licensed massage therapist Cam Spencer, RN, of Charleston, South Carolina.
Spencer is president of the National Association of Nurse Massage Therapists.
Recent studies have shown massage offers therapeutic benefits to people
suffering from back pain, stress, lyphemema and post-op coronary artery bypass
graft pain. A 2001 American Massage Therapy Association survey found 60 percent
of Americans seek massage for medical reasons.
"There’s an endorphin release and an increase in leukocytes; therefore
the immune system is enhanced," said licensed massage therapist Edie
Williams, RN, of Tallahassee, Florida. "The relaxation response decreases
muscle tension and pain perception."
Williams worked as a public health and school nurse for many years before
becoming a massage therapist in 1995. Many physicians and chiropractors refer
patients to her.
"I have people come because I am a nurse," she said. "They
feel that credential adds to my knowledge base."
Massage therapy offers nurses the opportunity to practice independently.
Training involves 500 or 800 hours of post-graduate education and practical
experience in massage and bodywork. Some states recognize massage as within a
nurse’s scope of practice, but others do not.
Association Vice President and certified massage therapist Jamie Listebarger,
RN, of Bemidji, Minnesota, recently received a grant to implement a two-step
proposal to obtain such recognition and incorporate massage into existing
hospice programs. Once accepted as within the scope of practice, massage therapy
would be reimbursable.
"Nurses are in the best position to work with hospice clients, because
they understand physiological changes, psychosocial issues, and death and
dying," Listebarger said. "I think it can improve quality of life for
hospice patients and their families."
Listebarger has focused her massage practice on helping patients resolve
pain-related problems. Clients range from teens with sports injuries to older
adults with ambulation difficulties. Her background includes community and
A nursing license allows a massage therapist to provide extra services.
Teaching how to perform stretching exercises, change dietary habits, reduce
stress and apply heat and cold becomes a natural extension of a massage session.
Some nurses, such as licensed massage therapist Judy Epstein, RN, of Tucson,
Arizona, take additional, related coursework. The former rehabilitation nurse
also holds neuromuscular therapy, healing touch and coach certification and
provides life enrichment coaching.
"We look at the life rather than just the body—asking what is going on
in life that needs healing," she explained. "I’m becoming an
advocate for wellness and an educator and promoter for holistic living."
Massage therapy appeals to nurses who enjoy patient teaching.
"I’m putting the power back in their lives and the responsibility for
health and wellness in their lap, because that’s the only time people really
change," Spencer said.
What’s more, she said massage offers her the opportunity for a different
type of practice, which draws on her maturity, 35 years of nursing and other
"[Massage therapy] gives you autonomy, and you’re able to share what
you’ve learned all those years but at a nicer pace," Spencer said.
"It’s one-on-one, uninterrupted time with the patient, with the rewards
of seeing people excited about getting better."
Most of Spencer’s clientele are at least 50 years old and suffering from
musculoskeletal or other chronic conditions. Spencer completes an assessment on
each patient, then develops a plan of care.
One 90-year-old woman makes regular visits to improve her circulation and
respiratory status and scheduled additional sessions prior to surgery to boost
her immune status. Massage helps Parkinson’s patients improve muscle tone and
relieves muscle tightness associated with chronic arthritis and other
conditions. Dentists refer TMJ patients to release trigger points due to teeth
grinding. And expectant mothers seek relief from pregnancy’s discomforts.
Licensed massage therapist Heidi Chavers, RN, of Tallahassee, Florida,
specializes in prenatal and postpartum massage and teaching parents how to
perform infant massage. The 20-year veteran of labor and delivery added massage
therapy to her skill set four years ago. She also teaches childbirth classes for
a physician’s group, is a lactation consultant, and regularly gives massages
at a retirement community.
"All of the skills dovetail perfectly," Chavers said. "Massage
complements everything I do. In our high-tech orientation to medicine, it helps
to balance that with high touch."
Infant massage enhances parental bonding. Chavers said babies share the same
basic need for comfort, touch and compassion as adults.
"I love what I do; there’s nothing more gratifying," said Chavers,
who finds similarities performing massage on clients at both ends of the age
spectrum. "It’s so fascinating how our bodies and our minds and every
experience are interconnected to touch."
For more information about massage therapy and nursing and the upcoming
National Conference on Nurse Massage Therapy, visit the Web site of the National
Association of Nurse Massage Therapists or call (800)262-4017.
June 14, 2002 © 2002. NurseZone.com. All Rights Reserved.