Massage therapy is a valuable component of palliative care, the medical subspecialty focused on treating the pain, symptoms and stress of advanced illnesses. Recent studies show how palliative care provides pain relief and saves money, and hospitals across the nation are increasingly implementing palliative care programs to help patients manage the physical and emotional burdens of serious illnesses.

Massage therapy, in particular, has been found to decrease pain, relieve fatigue, and provide meaning and respite to palliative-care patients.

Still, not all hospitals offer a palliative-care program.

A new study shows Georgia hospitals, in particular, lag in palliative care for the seriously ill. The University of Georgia (UGA) study finds that 82 percent of the state’s hospitals do not offer palliative-care services.

A 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that lung cancer patients receiving palliative care experienced less depression, improved quality of life and survived 2.7 months longer than those in a control group who did not receive palliative care, according to a UGA press release. “A 2011 study in the journal Health Affairs found that palliative care reduced costs for patients by an average of $6,900, primarily through a reduction in intensive care unit days, laboratory work and diagnostic imaging.”

Nationwide, palliative-care programs have expanded rapidly during the past decade, the press release added. “A study by the non-profit Center to Advance Palliative Care found that nearly 60 percent of hospitals with 50 beds or more had palliative-care programs in 2008, an increase of 126 percent since 2000.”

“Most people will have some sort of extended illness at the end of their life, and many, especially frail elders, could benefit from this type of care,” said study principal investigator Anne Glass, assistant director of the UGA Institute of Gerontology, part of the College of Public Health. “But only 18 percent of hospitals in Georgia have palliative-care programs, and the people we spoke with at more than half of the hospitals didn’t even know what palliative care was.”

The new study’s findings appear in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

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