Registered massage therapists play key role in B.C.'s health-care universe

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      The executive director of the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of B.C., Brenda Locke, wants to correct some misconceptions about the profession that she represents. First of all, RMTs, as registered massage therapists are often called, are part of a provincially regulated profession. Secondly, she told the Georgia Straight by phone, B.C.–licensed RMTs are among the best-trained in the world.

      “People make the assumption that it’s this ‘spa world’ that we deal with,” Locke said. “In fact, less than eight percent of our members work in spas. We don’t advocate for spas. We are about health care.”

      October is Massage Therapy Month in Canada, and Locke is marking this by elevating the public’s understanding. “Some RMTs go and do home visits, and that’s necessary—especially with severe musculoskeletal challenges when people can’t get up,” she said. “But for the most part, they’re working in clinical environments, probably more than 90 percent.”

      In recent years, a great deal of research on the efficacy of massage therapy has been published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. Papers explore such topics as whether massage therapy can alleviate stress among night-shift workers or reduce musculoskeletal pain. Locke said this helps address the expectations of insurers, including ICBC, that want to see evidence of the value of treatments.

      But sometimes the public will visit unlicensed bodyworkers rather than RMTs only to later discover that their insurer won’t cover the cost of their treatments.

      Voula Soursos, an RMT at White Oaks Massage & Wellness in White Rock, told the Straight by phone that this can occur when a physician instructs someone who’s been in a motor-vehicle accident to undergo massage therapy. But this person might not know the difference between an RMT and an unlicensed practitioner, let alone that an insurer will only pay for an RMT’s massage therapy.

      “They get all these treatments and they realize they’re not even covered by ICBC or by their extended health,” Soursos said. “They’ve wasted all this time and money.”

      There are other risks, too. Anyone who wants to become an RMT must graduate from a recognized massage-therapy program and pass a licensing exam administered by the College of Massage Therapists of B.C. Plus, they must undergo a criminal-record check. None of these requirements apply to unlicensed practitioners.

      “I’ve had car-accident patients where I’ve said, ‘I’m pretty sure your wrist is broken. You need to go to emergency,’ ” Soursos said. “Bodyworkers don’t know how to do that kind of front-line assessment.”

      Soursos listed a multitude of health conditions that she treats as an RMT, including musculoskeletal disorders, orthopedic conditions, chronic pain, back pain, headaches, insomnia, sports-related injuries, whiplash, muscle strains, sprains, carpal tunnel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome. She also sees patients undergoing postsurgical rehabilitation from orthopedic surgery and offers pre- and postnatal care.

      “We follow a treatment protocol, depending on what condition you come in with,” she said. “There are contraindications to massage therapy, and we go through an assessment process.”

      In 2015, the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork published a paper pointing out that massage therapy is “increasingly offered” in medical facilities in the United States. Yet in B.C., RMTs are not working in public hospitals. Locke said that this is despite massage therapy being “very effective” in helping new mothers deal with health challenges and bond with their infants.

      She also said that research has demonstrated that massage therapy can, in some cases, be as effective as surgery in treating osteoarthritis of the knee. And this is one reason why she believes that there’s a role for RMTs in long-term–care homes.

      “We know that the Mayo Clinic in Rochester [Minnesota] has massage therapists on staff,” Locke added. “We have a lot of massage therapists in B.C., and they’re all busy. So it’s not like we’re looking for more avenues, but we know that we could do a very good job in hospitals.”