Kneading new business - Demand for massage therapy increases

Monday, December 15, 2003

The room is dim. Soft flute music oozes from a CD player, punctuated with the occasional jingle of chimes. Nearby rests several kinds of lotions, waiting for use.

Jan McClanahan, a Cape Girardeau real estate agent, is lying on a table, covered by a towel. She's resting on her stomach, her eyes closed, visibly relaxed.

But then the massage begins in earnest. And so does the pain.

"Ouch, ouch, ouch," McClanahan repeats, as the steely fingers apply 10 pounds of pressure or more across her entire body, searching for trouble spots.

But the massage therapist, Glenna Pierce, doesn't scold her client for groaning about the pain. She encourages it.

"Give it a voice," says Pierce. "Don't hold it in. Don't just breathe."

McClanahan continues to express her pain, but later she says she loves her monthly massage.

"Glenna's the best," she said. "I've got more flexibility, more mobility, my back's straighter. My sinuses are better. When I miss coming, I can really tell. And it's really a good kind of hurt."

More and more business people, especially those with stressful jobs, are beginning to discover the power of massage. In fact, many across the spectrum are.

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, 18 percent of the U.S. population had a massage in the past 12 months, more than twice as many as five years ago.

'Not just fluff and buff'

The number of massage therapists in the United States is up, too. In 1996, there were 120,000 massage therapists. Today, there are upwards of 290,000.

There are more places to get massages in this area, too, including two that have recently opened.

The explosion can partly be attributed to the growing population of aging baby boomers, the association said, but also to an increased awareness of the effects of stress and of the physiological benefits of massage.

"It's not just fluff and buff," Pierce said. "Massage therapy increases your ability to heal yourself. It helps you increase circulation three times as normal."

More working-class professionals are using massage therapy to relieve stress and treat sore muscles, said Laura Pridemore, owner of Leisure Retreat. She said that is especially true around the holidays.

"People need to see them as more than a luxury," she said. "They're so much more beneficial in many ways. A massage can stimulate your bloodstream, it works and relaxes the muscles."

Massage is known for reducing stress and promoting relaxation. And, a growing body of research also shows that massage therapy is effective for relieving and managing chronic and acute pain, a significant national health problem. According to the National Institute for Health, more than one-third of all Americans will suffer from chronic pain at some point in their lives, and approximately 14 percent of all employees take time off from work due to pain. Increasingly, massage therapists are being incorporated into pain management programs of hospitals and health-care organizations.

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has suggested massage therapy as one means to manage pain without use of pharmaceuticals.

Sees tension in eyes

Jacqui Close, owner of the new Conscious Healing Institute, said that as people become more and more aware of this, the numbers of people who get massages will increase even more.

"We're in a fast-paced society," she said. "We're always running and going. We get a lot more buildup of lactic acids, and they create pain. We get in and work that out with a massage, and that really makes a difference."

Close said she can see the stress and tension in people's eyes when they come in.

"Then they come out and look like they've been sitting on a beach for an hour or two," she said. "They're relaxed and smiling. But this is a lot more than a feel-good thing. This is your health."

McClanahan, after her massage last week, said that they would be especially beneficial to people in stressful jobs.

"I love my job, but sometimes you have to take time out to take care of your body," she said.

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