Chronic Illness and Massage Therapy

Chronic illness refers to a disease, injury, or a condition that changes little or progresses slowly. Like chronic pain, chronic illness can be a grave stress and strain on the individual, taking a heavy toll on emotional as well as physical strength. Acute illness or injury, by comparison to chronic illness, is a short-term condition and heals normally.


Long-term debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, and disk problems that cause back pain, respond well to massage, relieving clients’ pain for short periods of time and helping to strengthen clients’ coping mechanisms.


Individuals experiencing chronic illness are usually under a physician’s care. Typically, massage is just one part of a team effort necessary to treat and manage chronic illness. Ideally, the massage therapist works closely with the physician, as well as the other members of the client’s health care team, and all are privy to knowledge regarding all medications and treatments, both prescription and non-prescription, that the client may be taking.


In general, the more the practitioner knows about the client’s illness, medication, and treatment plan, the more targeted and effective massage treatments can be. Massage therapy may be able to lessen or decrease the client’s dependence on certain medications, and may speed healing, due to increased circulation and the client’s enhanced ability to deal with stress.


Our medical systems tend to emphasize acute and trauma care, and may seem poorly suited to the needs of the chronically ill. Massage therapists may feel some frustration with “the system” and their part in it. Practitioners who work with chronic illness must have realistic expectations about their own efficacy and the client’s illness; clients may show little change or progress, or even deteriorate slowly, or noticeably, over the period of treatment.


Treating clients with chronic illness can be equally emotionally  challenging and extremely rewarding.  Often times, stabilization, rather than recuperation, may indeed be the best-case scenario for a client with chronic illness.  To learn more about treating patients with chronic conditions check out our continuing education course library for massage therapists at

Do you treat clients with chronic illness?  Is it effective?  Share your thoughts below!

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