Perspective on massage as complementary therapy

A massage authority speaks out on massage’s role in health care in a personal interview with

By John Russo Jr./

VICUS.COM (12 July 2000) — During the recent Johns Hopkins nursing symposium, “Nursing in the New Millennium,” Patricia Grimm,  Ph.D, R.N., CS-P, provided perspective and insight into the value and contributions of massage in health care. 

Symposium proceedings:

What: “Nursing in the New Millennium: High Tech/High Touch”
Who: The Johns Hopkins Nurses’ Alumni Association
When: June 9, 2000
Where: Baltimore, Md.
Details: The Johns Hopkins Nurses’ Alumni Association offered an annual one-day continuing-education seminar as part of homecoming weekend. Through lectures, workshops and posters, a range of complementary therapies were presented and discussed within the context of modern nursing practice. covered the conference and reports on massage, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Reiki. 

Grimm is a psychiatric consultation liaison nurse at the St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Md. She provides psychiatric assessment and emotional support to patients and their families throughout the hospital. She also provides consultation to hospital staff in their care of patients. spoke with her before the lecture. 

The benefits of massage The title of your lecture today is “Massage: The Healing Touch.” I would like to ask you about this title and your rationale for selecting it. 

Grimm: I think it is accurate to say that there are physical, mental and emotional benefits to massage. For example, there is muscle relaxation that can be used to prevent or treat sports injuries. Massage is associated with increased circulation of blood flow and lymph, which can be beneficial. When massage is combined with adequate fluid intake, there is also elimination of waste products that result from muscle tension and discomfort. These are examples of physical benefits. How does massage provide mental and emotional benefits to people?

Grimm: The physical relaxation that comes from massage is accompanied by mental and emotional relaxation. This is important because many physical diseases can be made worse by stress. Examples include migraine, asthma, gastrointestinal upset and heart conditions, including hypertension. What about the power of simply touching another human being?

Grimm: We should not underestimate the power of human, physical, nonsexual touching. Massage meets a need we have to be cared for. Mothers and babies develop it in terms of bonding, for example. So, to be touched in a caring environment and in a caring way can be emotionally satisfying and supportive.

Perspective on massage in health care You are a nurse with a Ph.D, so you have a background in science. As such, I would suggest to you that there is not an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence in support of the ability of massage to actually heal disease. Would you agree with that statement?

Grimm: If we define “healing” as the elimination of disease as a result of the specific act of massage, your statement is true. However, when viewed from a broader perspective, if someone, for example, is experiencing stress or anxiety related to a chronic health condition, or as a result of going through a surgical procedure, massage can provide complementary support in managing the difficulties associated with the illness.

Application of massage to health care At the community hospital where you practice, how do you incorporate massage into the care of patients?

Grimm: At our hospital, practitioners do massage on patients who have had open-heart surgery. Massage is also given to patients who have had a myocardial infarction. The goal of massage therapy is to provide physical relaxation in support of healing, postoperatively.

“At our hospital, practitioners do massage following open-heart surgery …. to provide physical relaxation in support of healing.”
Patricia Grimm What did it take to convince physicians and surgeons to order massage for their patients?

Grimm: Our hospital maintains an alternative/complementary health center. It is a freestanding program. As with other innovative services, representatives from the center met with physicians to describe the program. At first, one or two physicians from the heart institute at the hospital supported the concept. Since then, others have adopted it as part of their therapeutic plan. We anticipate that the service will expand to other areas, such as orthopedic surgery. These patients tend to have prolonged inactivity, and massage is useful as a passive exercise to complement their physical therapy. How did you become interested in massage? 

Grimm: I was on the nursing faculty at Johns Hopkins and was looking for something to balance my relatively stressful academic life. I had my first massage while I was traveling and was pleased with it. When I returned to Maryland, I spoke with someone who became my massage therapist, and I was encouraged to attend massage school, which I did. I became hooked on the benefits of massage, and now it is one of the primary areas of activity for me as I expand my professional life.

John Russo Jr., PharmD, is senior vice president of medical communications at He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.



Personal interview with Patricia Grimm, Ph.D, R.N., CS-P, at the Johns Hopkins Nurses’ Alumni Association symposium, Baltimore, Md., June 9, 2000.

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