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32 m a s s a g e & b o d y wo r k j u l y/a u g u s t 2 0 2 1 Pharmacology Basics for Massage Therapists By Ruth Werner, BCTMB education | PATHOLOGY PERSPECTIVES When I entered the massage therapy field, it was well accepted that practitioners needed to know at least a little bit about contraindications: situations in which massage therapy might cause damage. I felt drastically underprepared to make good decisions about contraindications at the beginning of my career, and that led me to learn more (and then to teach and write) about pathology in the context of massage therapy— and this became an enduring passion for me. But adjacent to pathology is the whole field of pharmacologic interventions used to treat or manage diseases and conditions, and, at least in my generation, we received no education about that topic at all. In fact, I learned that if a client needed medication to manage their high blood pressure, then they were probably not a good candidate for massage anyway. (How many clients would you have if you followed this advice?) Happily, that lack of any education about pharmacology in massage school is no longer universally true—many massage therapy programs now include information about medications. Nonetheless, I continue to find that many massage therapists seem eager to learn more about the drugs their clients use and how massage might influence those situations for better or worse. And because I teach and write about pathology, I am often the person people ask for this information. This is highly ironic, given my lifelong avoidance of learning anything—anything—about chemistry. But in a way, that makes me a useful communicator about this topic, because I find I am not alone in this attitude. With that in mind, what follows is a chemistry-light beginner's introduction to the world of pharmacology, with an emphasis on massage therapy accommodations and adjustments. WHAT IS A DRUG? A well-accepted definition of drug is: a natural or synthetic chemical substance that alters physiology when taken into a living system. Under this definition, substances like caffeine, alcohol, and even sugar could be considered drugs. Not all drugs are medications, however. A drug is a medication when it is intended to improve health in some way. Medications can be used to help diagnose, treat, or ANNA SHVETS/PEXELS.COM

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