A team of massage therapists and acupuncturists provided complementary care at seven evacuation centers following the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011. The rate of satisfaction following these sessions was greater than 90 percent, with evacuees reporting both physical and psychological relief, according to a recent report in Integrative Medicine Insights.

The article, “Report on Disaster Medical Operations with Acupuncture/Massage Therapy After the Great East Japan Earthquake,” describes the experience of providing complementary care in the setting of a disaster evacuation center. Along with participating in the effort, the authors assessed evacuee medical records to gather their data.

The report states that massage therapists and acupuncturists from the Tohoku University Department of Traditional Asian Medicine visited seven evacuation centers in the first three months after the Great East Japan Earthquake. During this time, a total of 553 evacuees received sessions of massage therapy or acupuncture.

The mean age of these evacuees was 54 years, and 206 of them were men, whereas the other 347 were women. Common complaints among these evacuees were pain and stiffness, mostly in the shoulder, back and lumbar regions.

“The characteristic symptoms were stiffness and pain that started to increase approximately one month after the earthquake,” state the article’s authors. “We speculate that those complaining of pain affecting various parts of the body increased due to the unaccustomed stay at an evacuation center, as well as lying down in a space too small to roll over, contents of meals, environmental shock, stress [and so on].”

A dedicated session space was set up in one of the evacuation centers, and in the others the sessions took place in the evacuee living quarters. The authors of this report emphasize the need for a dedicated session room, if possible. If not, they advise creating as much privacy as possible through the use of tents and drapes.

“Acquiring a dedicated space has the merit of facilitating hygiene and risk management in addition to protecting privacy,” state the article’s authors. “In conversation with the treated evacuees, some told us that being able to lie down alone, even if only during a therapy session, was valuable because there is no solitude while staying in an evacuation center.”

The authors conclude that massage therapy and acupuncture may not only relieve pain and stiffness for disaster evacuees, but also lead to the early detection of other health issues, via the time for discussion between practitioner and evacuee. They speculate this interaction brings social benefits as well.

“The therapy satisfaction rate of 92.3 percent may reflect not only simple effects of physical treatment, but also relaxing effects derived from the inherent sense of trust and safety generated by the warmth of manual treatment and conversation the during therapy sessions,” state the authors of this report.


Authors: Shin Takayama, Tetsuharu Kamiya, Masashi Watanabe, Atsushi Hirano, Ayane Matsuda, Yasutake Monma, Takehiro Numata, Hiroko Kusuyama and Nobuo Yaegashi.

Sources: Department of Traditional Asian Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine, Graduate Medical Education Center, Tohoku University, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan. Originally published in 2012 in Integrative Medicine Insights, 7, 1-5.