As public awareness of the health benefits of massage therapy has grown, more people are turning to massage therapy as a complement to their medical treatments. Since many patients will be taking medications, massage therapists must adapt their treatment plan, taking into account the impact of medications. For this reason, training for registered massage therapists includes an understanding of pharmaceuticals and their potential side effects.
Pharmacology classes in massage therapy education programs ensure that student therapists understand the uses, effects and side effects of common medications.
For instance, muscle relaxants and diuretics can lower blood pressure, and lead to dizziness after massage. Accordingly, RMTs may end a treatment with faster, stimulating strokes in order to minimize this effect. They may ask a patient to lie down after a session to avoid occurrence of dizziness or allow it to pass.
Anticoagulants, taken by patients with cardiovascular conditions, may cause thinning of the blood, leaving a patient prone to bruising and more sensitive to treatment. In this case an RMT may avoid deep tissue techniques, using lighter strokes instead.
At massage therapist school, students prepare to treat patients with a range of conditions that are commonly medicated. Even minor physical injuries may require patients to take painkillers, which will either reduce inflammation or alter pain perception in the central nervous system. Patients may also take painkillers for chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia. RMTs provide more conservative treatments with these patients to avoid exacerbating the condition.
RMTs must be particularly cautious with diabetes. Diabetes and its associated medications can cause numbness, bruising, and muscle pain, and massage can lower blood glucose levels, possibly triggering a hypoglycemic episode. Therapists treating these patients must be aware of the dosage schedule, and may have fruit juice on hand in case the patient’s blood sugar drops.
Although massage therapy treatment can be modified to avoid interactions with many medications, there are some medications where massage treatment is ‘contraindicated.’ In these cases massage therapy could put the patient at risk. In their pre-treatment interview, a registered massage therapist will gather as much information as possible from a medicated patient in order to identify any contraindications. This may be challenging for a number of reasons. For example, some patients may be unsure which medications they are taking. There are also a number of pharmaceutical brands on the market, often with complex names. In some cases an RMT may find it necessary to research an unfamiliar drug.
Even if a patient has not disclosed anything which might be contraindicative to massage, an RMT will still pay attention to any physical signs that may be related to a medication. For example, some medications can cause changes in gait, movement or posture. RMTs will also take notice of any signs that the patient is confused or disoriented. A therapist may also look for symptoms by palpating the patient’s skin, noticing any increased perspiration, loose or fragile muscle tissue, or swelling which might be a result of medication.
Massage therapy education prepares graduate RMTs to treat patients taking medications and to know when to adapt or avoid treatment.
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