Massage therapists often volunteer in the aftermath of disasters, providing massage for pain relief to first responders, primarily, and the public.

Massage therapists often volunteer in the aftermath of disasters, providing massage therapy to first responders, primarily, and the public.

New research indicates that in the aftermath of a disaster, receiving massage therapy and acupuncture can result in a significant decrease in subjective physical pain.

The study, “Medical support with acupuncture and massage therapies for disaster victims,” involved more than 1,100 disaster victims and support staff in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster and the Joso City Flood.

Following the Disaster

At least 18,000 people died during the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011, and more than 400,000 people were evacuated to shelters and evacuation centers, the researchers report.

Following this disaster, a team of practitioners provided massage and acupuncture to 1,042 evacuees and supporters.

During the flood, which occurred in 2015, more than 6,000 people were evacuated, and a team of practitioners provided massage and acupuncture to 110 evacuees and supporters.

The practitioners, all of whom were part of the Disaster Acupuncture and Massage Project, kept records of their work with the evacuees and supporters. They noted the complaints of the evacuees and supporters in order to gain a better understanding of the physical issues people face in the aftermath of a disaster.

In the case of the Joso City Flood, the practitioners also asked each evacuee or supporter to rate his or her pain on the Face Scale before and after massage and acupuncture. The Face Scale features simple drawings of faces in varying levels of pain or no pain and corresponds to numeric values that range from zero to five.

Types of Pain

According to the study’s authors, most of the evacuees and supporters complained of more than one physical issue, and the most common issues were shoulder, back and knee pain.

These specific issues were reported by close to 68 percent of the victims and support staff in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami and by around 80 percent of the victims and support staff in the aftermath of the flood.

As far as the effect of massage and acupuncture on pain, the researchers report a significant decrease in the median Face Scale scores of the evacuees and supporters after receiving massage and acupuncture.

In Conclusion

“In conclusion, [acupuncture and massage therapy are] helpful for evacuees and supporters in disaster-affected areas as they provide relief from subjective symptoms that may arise due to prolonged stays at evacuation centers,” state the study’s authors.

Authors: Masataka Miwa, Shin Takayama and Soichiro Kaneko.

Sources: Disaster Acupuncture, Moxibustion, and Massage Relief Project, Chofushi, Tokyo, Japan; and Department of Kampo Medicine, Tohoku University Hospital, Aobaku, Sendai City, Japan. Originally published in January 2018 in the Journal of General and Family Medicine, 19(1), 15-19.

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