Ballarat massage therapist Andrew Gallagher has been in the industry for almost four decades and has seen the changing role of massage in the health system.
Professional massage therapists now work in many clinical health settings including cancer centres, accident rehabilitation, pain relief, and addiction treatment, alongside registered health practitioners, and are part of nearly every elite sports team in the world.
But they are still not recognised or acknowledged in Federal health policy, and while their services are not covered under Medicare, other health providers can offer funded massage therapy with little to no training.
"What's really changed in the last 20 years is there's much more therapeutic remedial health-related massage ... that's where the growth is and that's where the industry has been heading for a long time," Mr Gallagher said.
While professional massage therapists work in Australia's major cancer centres, pre and post-natal care, accident rehabilitation, in pain relief and mobility, and areas of stress and emotional trauma such as addiction rehabilitation, they are not recognised to provide massage therapy under Medicare- Ann Davey
"There are training programs now available right through to advanced diploma and some Bachelor level university programs that focus on health and that's where demand is biggest."
Mr Gallagher has backed Massage and Myotherapy Australia's campaign for greater recognition of professional massage therapists and their role in the health system.
"Lifestyle diseases and stress-related diseases is where massage is coming in more. There's more evidence showing the connection between physical contact and touch and the immune system and nervous system. Massage can be a very useful ancillary health practice that doesn't replace medicine but fits in with it.
"It's pretty mainstream and most massage practitioners, what we would like as professionals, is stronger recognition of massage as a health modality."
Mr Gallagher, who is also a physiotherapist, said during the pandemic massage therapists were categorised along with massage parlours as physical services that could not operate under public health restrictions, when many other health practitioners were able to keep treating patients.
"It means patients didn't get the treatment they require. A lot of massage is preventative so the ban probably led to patients having greater problems, being in pain, taking more medication," he said.
Massage and Myotherapy Australia chief executive Ann Davey said allied health practitioners such as nurses, physiotherapists or chiropractors could administer massage therapy under Medicare funding rules, but it was rarely documented in patient or client notes or other data collected leading to little knowledge within the wider health community about the value of massage treatments.
"We are not seeking to be registered as allied health practitioners, but it is clear that federal health policies and regulations need to change," Mrs Davey said. "Medicare policy needs to acknowledge and define title of practice for professional remedial massage therapists and myotherapists.
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"This will provide certainty about the skills and competencies of qualified massage therapists not only for patients and the community generally, but also for medical practitioners who often refer patients to massage therapists," Mrs Davey said.
"Professional massage therapists now work in numerous clinical settings and alongside registered health practitioners. Globally they are part of nearly every elite sports team in the world, yet federal health policy does not recognise or even mention the important role they play.
"While professional massage therapists work in Australia's major cancer centres, pre and post-natal care, accident rehabilitation, in pain relief and mobility, and areas of stress and emotional trauma such as addiction rehabilitation, they are not recognised to provide massage therapy under Medicare."
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