Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2017

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C h e c k o u t A B M P 's l a t e s t n e w s a n d b l o g p o s t s . Av a i l a b l e a t w w w. a b m p . c o m . 49 during the workday, warming up before performing work-related physical activity, and alternating the body parts through which the force is exerted, such as fingers, thumbs, palms of hands, and forearms. A related article used qualitative analysis to better understand work-related exposures and physical complaints of physical therapists. 2 In this study, two qualitative methods were used. First, a focus group was assembled with five representatives of professional physiotherapy associations and health and safety stakeholders, along with two moderators. Participants were asked about individual perceptions concerning typical work-related exposures and characteristics of work-related complaints and diseases, as well as their perceptions of work-related resources. In the second portion of this study, 40 physical therapists completed semi-structured telephone interviews that included questions about work-related exposures and main complaints experienced by this working group. The results of both the focus group and the telephone interviews indicated that the work-related exposures fell into three categories: musculoskeletal, dermal/ infectious, and psychosocial. Some of these exposures included awkward body posture during treatment, physical overexertion, patient skin infections, and time pressures during care. The work-related disorders and diseases that were discussed by both groups mirrored the exposures and included musculoskeletal, dermal/infectious, and mental categories. Examples of the discussed disorders and diseases common in physical therapists included spinal disorders, finger and wrist complaints, physical exhaustion, joint pains, skin infections, colds, mental exhaustion, and burnout. Both the focus group and telephone interviews explored possible resources for prevention and treatment of work-related disorders. All resources surrounded both organizational and personal criteria. Some examples of resources that might improve the workplace included: creativity and practicality in treatment, diversity in occupational tasks, teamwork, and positive feedback by patients. All these factors may benefit individuals working in a massage therapy practice as well. LIMITED RESEARCH FOR MTS Only one article was found that focused on a massage therapy work-related disorder. 3 In this case report, a 32-year-old female massage therapist presented with a six- month history of pain and numbness in bilateral thumbs, with the right worse than the left. Even though there was normal range-of-thumb motion, imaging revealed hypertrophied muscles, soft-tissue edema, and thickening of the ulnar nerve. Surgical debulking of the hypertrophied right first dorsal interosseous and adductor pollicis longus muscles immediately decreased the compression neuropathy and thereby improved her pain and numbness. The therapist did not want surgical intervention on the left thumb, and so it was treated with an injection of botulinum toxin. After the surgery and injection, the massage therapist was taught how to use proximal large muscles while practicing massage instead of relying on small intrinsic muscles in order to prevent recurrence. She returned to work three weeks after surgery and remained pain- free during the 36 months of follow-up. MOVING FORWARD More research studies are needed on work- related exposures and disorders among massage therapists, along with prevention strategies for such disorders. It is important to note that since 1995, there has been some significant work done by Lauriann Greene and Richard W. Goggins on injuries and ergonomics for massage therapists. For more information, visit Based on the above findings involving the physical therapy profession, manual therapists most likely need to be mindful of hand and finger overuse, back pain, and mental burnout. Personal and workplace strategies to diminish these work-related disorders would be beneficial. Notes 1. M. Milhem et al., "Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Among Physical Therapists: A Comprehensive Narrative Review," International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health 29, no. 5 (2016): 735–47. doi: 10.13075/ijomeh.1896.00620. 2. M. Girbig et al., "Work-Related Exposures and Disorders Among Physical Therapists: Experiences and Beliefs of Professional Representatives Assessed Using a Qualitative Approach," Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology 12 (January 7, 2017): 2. doi: 10.1186/s12995-016-0147-0. 3. C. C. Chen et al., "Compression Neuropathy of the Ulnar Digital Nerves in the Thumbs of a Massage Therapist," Annals of Plastic Surgery 72, no. 6 (2014): 649–51. doi: 10.1097/SAP.0b013e31826a1607. Jerrilyn Cambron, DC, PhD, MPH, LMT, is an educator at the National University of Health Sciences and president of the Massage Therapy Foundation. Contact her at

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