Opioid Overdoses Are Up. Could Massage Help? [Guest Editorial]

I lost my dad, Fred, at the age of 58, to an opioid overdose after he had seven lower-body surgeries for injuries that he didn’t even need.

He had tried everything he possibly could do and was left with no choice but to start taking opioids for pain relief in 2014. The two-year demise and rapid destruction of his quality of life were brutal and disturbing to watch.

In 2016, he lost his battle to addiction and lost his life. It was a horrible day in which he coded eight times and became brain dead. I had to decide to pull him off life support. Watching him die was something that I will never forget and changed me for the rest of my life.

I went through a vast array of emotions, from sadness to intense anger, that this had happened at the hands of the medical system and continues to happen more frequently. Once my emotions settled down a few weeks later, I began to reflect on why all this happened and keeps happening at an alarming rate.

I went through the obvious culprits and played the blame game: Greedy doctors and Big Pharma completely disregarding human life and only caring about making money was one thought I had. I then went deeper and started to realize it was partially the patient’s fault as well, as they will do anything to get out of pain in the short term and not think about the long-term ramifications of that shortsighted approach.

Consider the latest data on drug-overdose deaths:

• Drug-overdose deaths increased a staggering 29.4 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

• In numbers, that means drug-overdose deaths increased from 72,151 in 2019 to 93,331 in 2020.

• Many people who become addicted to opioids begin in a medical doctor’s office with the hopes of relieving pain; according to the American Psychiatric Association, at least 2 million Americans develop a substance-abuse disorder related to prescription opioid pain medication.

The Chiropractor Who Does Not Adjust

I graduated with my chiropractic degree in 2011. I am not a typical chiropractor and am an outcast in my profession for the way I practice and treat.

I have never adjusted in my clinical practice and have focused only on delivering hands-on, soft-tissue-based treatments. Halfway through my schooling, I started questioning the validity of the adjustment and asked why we didn’t just focus on the soft-tissue portion because it’s what holds the bones in place. My teachers didn’t like that and told me to drop out of school “if you don’t believe in the true healing powers of chiropractic.”

I didn’t listen to them and instead focused on soft-tissue-specific treatments while doing everything I could to learn more. I did what I had to do to pass my boards, but to this day, I can say I have never performed an adjustment in over 10 years in practice.

It is safe to say I am all-in on the importance of hands-on soft-tissue treatment. I realized that back in 2016 what my dad needed earlier on in the treatment process was soft-tissue treatment. Unfortunately, I was still new in my career, and my skill set wasn’t strong enough to help him get any long-lasting results.

Are MTs the Key to Solving the Opioid Epidemic?

The best in the world and most equipped to treat soft-tissue issues are massage therapists. They have the best hands, the best palpation, and can get to the root cause of the injury.

Massage therapists are the key to solving the opioid epidemic, but they often take a back seat to other practitioners, even though they are the best option to give someone injured and in pain a chance.

Read “The NOPAIN Act Could Open the Door to Massage Therapy as an Alternative to Opioids”

I have been training massage therapists exclusively over the past two years and have started to recognize why they aren’t taking their rightful place as primary injury treatment providers. Some of it is due to their own limiting beliefs; some constraints are put on them by the industry; additionally, many massage therapists miss out on properly educating potential clients on how they can help solve their injuries.

What is Holding Massage Back?

Here are the four factors that I believe are holding massage therapists back:

• The massage profession is subservient to other practitioners. Massage therapists have the best skills to deliver soft-tissue treatment—not physical therapists or chiropractors.

• Massage is often labeled as non-essential. Bottom line, massage therapy has taken a backseat to chiropractic and physical therapy, even though massage does more good.

• Many massage therapists focus on techniques and applying treatment right away. We manual therapists want to get our hands on people and help them. Many treatment systems focus on just the treatment aspect and completely disregard figuring out precisely what is causing the issue. I always say to my coaching clients, “How can you ever expect to fix a problem if you don’t know what it is in the first place?

On the other side, some systems are too focused on the evaluation and diagnostic side, where you spend an hour just doing an assessment. You know what the problem could be but don’t have enough time to apply the correct treatment. The soft-tissue approach needs to be somewhere in the middle, where the evaluation and treatment are equally critical, and you can’t do one without the other.

• Many massage therapists lack true belief in the power of what they can do. One of the first things I do when training and coaching massage therapists is to start by shifting their belief about their identity. No one is allowed to say, “I’m a massage therapist.” Instead, they are encouraged to say, “I am a soft-tissue specialist who fixes chronic and unresolved injuries without the use of drugs, injections or surgeries.” (With acknowledgment, of course, that any massage therapist must work within scope of practice and also refer out to an appropriate health care professional when needed.)

It all starts with believing in what you can do and the changes you can make. I truly know and have seen firsthand the power of excellent soft-tissue treatment.

Action Steps

I want to give you some action steps you can implement right away to help combat what is holding the massage profession back.

Educate your clients on how you are a solution to their problem. Too many massage therapists are stuck in the service-based model and market based on what they do, instead of educating on how and why they can help be a solution to injuries and pain.

• Pick a specialty or niche. The human body is complicated, and it’s even harder when you have to know the whole thing. In my clinics we always had specific therapists focus on one region and be the in-house expert on that. People will listen to, respect more and pay a lot more for a specialist than a generalist.

• Invest in your skill set and knowledge: Don’t pick a training or CE course based on it being the most convenient or cheapest. The biggest problem with a cheap solution is that it will never work. Don’t look at acquiring skills as a cost, look at it as an investment.

None of the above will work until you start believing in yourself. Once you have that power, the true conviction of what you do will resonate with your clients, allowing them to get the treatment they need.

Matt Maggio, DC

About the Author:

Matt Maggio, DC, is a licensed chiropractor in Iowa and Florida who only uses soft-tissue modalities and never adjustments. He created The Peak Method, focusing on functional-based and results-driven soft-tissue treatments. He founded The Soft Tissue Revolution podcast (podcasts.apple.com) to solve the opioid epidemic by helping people in pain get access to quality soft-tissue treatments.


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