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Health Check: Massage Therapy

Health Check: Massage Therapy (NBC 10 Photo)

Could massage therapy be just what the doctor ordered to treat pain?

Recently, the National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to America's health insurance plans asking them to cover alternatives to opioids for chronic pain, including massage therapy. And this could be a game changer.

Right now, 91 Americans die from opioid overdoses every single day. So the Attorneys General want coverage to include everything from acupuncture to massage therapy. This is good news for New England's only associate degree program for massage therapy at the CCRI campus in Newport.

“Right now, massage is pretty much out of pocket,” said Regina Cobb, Director of the Massage Therapy Program at CCRI.

Considered by many, a spa treatment. But, at CCRI, those in the massage therapy program know it's often much, much more than that.

"We have a data base of over 500 people and they've been coming in and we've been really looking at some of the stuff that's going on with them, so we try to recruit people who have pain," said Cobb.

And they track their pain levels over time.

"And what we found is that, over baseline, they never went back to what it was before," said Cobb.

And that seems to be the consensus. Even beyond the Attorneys General Association pushing for insurance coverage, the Joint Commission, a non-profit organization that accredits health care organizations and programs will require all hospitals provide and promote alternatives to drugs...things like massage and other alternative therapies-- beginning January 1st.

"This is fabulous news,” said Cobb. “Fabulous news for me in that I started doing this in the hospitals in 2012 and it's really been catching on.”

"It's really exciting because we’re beginning to see the acceptance of the therapeutic work that we actually do with most of the people that we see," said Deborah Luhrs, CCRI faculty member and internship coordinator who also maintains a private practice.

And that's not all that's changed, she says.

"The education is changing for massage therapists. Originally in Rhode Island the state would accept people who worked as an apprentice but now the regulations have changed and they're requiring much more education which makes a big difference in the quality of the massage therapists that are out there."

It is unclear when or even if insurance companies will offer coverage for massage therapy. Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI says it has no plans on covering massage next year, but explains it does cover evidence-based therapies for chronic pain, such as physical and behavioral therapy, as well as chiropractic care. And in some instances, massage may be a part of the covered physical therapy and chiropractic treatment.


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