Why Don’t More Doctors Look Into Massage for Clients in Physical Pain?

I got asked an excellent question on Quora the other day regarding massage treatments as viable options for pain relief and why more doctors who treat physical pain don’t suggest massage to their patients. The question read, “Why don't more doctors who treat physical pain in patients look into trigger points or myofascial release as a solution?” Keep reading to find out what I replied.

Patients Have Skewed Healthcare Towards Easy Solutions

There are several reasons for this, but the primary one (in my humble opinion) actually has to do with the patients themselves. Most people don’t want to put in the time, effort, and potentially money to help themselves reach a place of true health and minimal to no pain. They would much rather have a quick, easy solution, such as a pain-relieving pill. Hence, the market has responded to the nature of such a demand by making prescription drugs very popular. When doctors get so many people who want the easy solution, it can become a habit to just prescribe something rather than suggesting lifestyle changes that the patient is all too likely to ignore. Fortunately, with more and more people finally seeking to put in the effort required to maintain their own health rather than trying to let prescriptions do it for them, more doctors that treat pain are beginning to look to complementary treatments such as medical massage and acupuncture to offer to their patients as possibilities for treatment.

Doctors May Not Know About Massage as a Viable Treatment Option

Another reason is that some doctors simply aren’t aware of the efficacy of such methods, or don’t believe that they are effective at all. For such medically-oriented therapies as trigger point and myofascial release, this is less the case, as the medical community in general recognizes that these are very specialized treatments that are meant to actively focus on and correct soft tissue dysfunction and pain; but there are still a small number of doctors who simply refuse to believe that massage of any kind has any real and long-lasting benefits.

Doctors May Wish to Suggest Treatments that Are Covered by Insurance

A third possibility is that most doctors don’t want to suggest treatments to their patients that are not covered by insurance. Many “alternative” or “complementary” wellness offerings, including massage, are either not covered at all by most insurance companies and plans, or are only covered in certain circumstances, such as when offered in conjunction with chiropractic treatments or when used as treatment for a specific injury (much like how physical therapy is used by prescription). Some plans will specify that they only cover certain styles of massage — almost always excluded to the more medically-oriented ones — or will only allow a certain amount of massage time spent on certain areas (e.g. no more than fifteen minutes on any one area being treated). Because of this complicated and often expensive system, many doctors may end up feeling that massage is simply not a viable option to suggest to some of their patients, unless they feel they can truly afford treatments that insurance may not cover.

A Small Number of Doctors Take Advantage of Benefits from Pharmaceutical Companies

A fourth explanation, which I’m sure applies only to a very small number of doctors but applies nonetheless, is that pharmaceutical companies do have some major pull in terms of which prescriptions they want doctors to use. I know one of my own doctors told me at one point that they had been pressured to use a certain prescription when the pharmaceutical company offered a commission to him for every time that he prescribed the drug. Considering that that could bring in some major additional income, some doctors no doubt fall prey to the ease of relying on prescriptions to both offer relief to their patients as well as bring them some additional money.

Doctors Take Time to Learn about New Treatments Rather than Rushing Their Judgment

And finally, the simple fact is that doctors are humans. They are not omniscient, and many are just now learning how detrimental some of the prescriptions and formerly widely-accepted medical practices can be. (After all, chiropractic medicine, which is now accepted as completely legitimate, was once shunned and actively sabotaged by the American Medical Association because it was assumed that all chiropractors were quacks! How times change…) Some doctors are slower to accept these new “facts” than others because they wish to see whether it is a trend that will pass with time or whether they are genuine truths here to stay. When their practices and reputations are on the line, it is no surprise that they may be cautious when jumping on any new bandwagon for alternative therapies or new medical ideas. These are just a few of the possible reasons why more doctors who treat physical pain in patients do not look to alternative therapies such as trigger point therapy and myofascial release or orthopedic massage.