Muscle Memory Massage

Versus: Massage Takes On Opioids

The opioid crisis in America is a truly horrible and sorrowful thing. The reach and destruction of these drugs has soaked so far into our communities that it is altogether common for any one of us to have a degree of personal relation to the problem, irrespective of socio-economic status.

As opposed to “street drugs,” whose stigmatic issues are typically ignored and/or frowned upon by much of society as a “their problem” situation, opioid drugs are the wolf in sheep’s clothing; they are capable of making anyone the victim, be it your Nanna, your parent, or your favorite uncle.


As a quick review, Purdue Pharma was one of the largest instigators of the opioid crisis, pushing their staple drug OxyContin onto doctors and their patients with dishonesty about the severity of the highly addictive drug. Their angle was to make a sh*tload of cash, and they did—at the expense of unsuspecting patients’ lives.

Earlier this month, the people who made these sincerely evil decisions (the unapologetic Sackler family) were forced to face the problem as they heard in court from opioid survivors, from those who lost husbands, sons, and daughters, and from others affected so deeply by the aftermath they caused.

The Sacklers did not respond whatsoever, and though they pled guilty to the charges brought against them, their sentence ultimately spared them any jail time, which has rightfully infuriated many.

Meanwhile, as a small “case study” example of unsavory conduct at the prescriber-level of the larger opioid crisis: Mobile, Alabama’s own Dr. Xiulu Ruan was convicted in 2017 for his improper distribution of opioids and his subsequent financial gains.

He is currently appealing his conviction with the Supreme Court in a landmark case that will determine a new legal boundary for doctors as they prescribe medications. Unfortunately, he is one of many physicians who perpetrated the issue, choosing personal prosperity over patient wellness. Even the Hippocratic Oath has a price, it seems.


Opioids have been handed out quite casually for decades now. Codeine, fentanyl, Lortabs and Vicodin, Demerol, morphine, hydrocodone, Percocet—these are just some of the prescriptions that have been given to us by board-certified medical professionals whom we trust to care for us to the best of their knowledge and ability.

Over time, however, this nonchalant opioid guidance has grown far beyond its intrinsic danger level, as very few patients are also thoroughly verbally educated about the drugs and warned by their doctors of the sincere risks associated with them.

It’s no wonder whatsoever that, by the CDC’s tally, prescription opioid deaths are four times higher today than they were in 1999 – equating to nearly 900,000 deaths in sum. (These facts and figures also worsened substantially during COVID isolations.)

So many futures will never come to pass as a direct result of pain pills that have been distributed legally by our own healthcare system. This needless loss encompasses not only those who die, but also those who continue to live with an all-consuming addiction to opioid drugs, and loved ones across the board.


  • Chronic pains
  • Surgical recovery
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Recovery from an accident
  • Injuries sustained on the job or during athletics
  • Tendonitis including golfer’s or tennis elbow

These are just some of the common ailments that overlap between:

  1. reasons doctors prescribe opioid pain medications, and
  2. conditions that massage can help to manage.

Because we live in a time where pain is an infinitely cascading plague and roughly half of adults live with chronic illness, the DoD, the VA, and the NIH have all been aggressively constructing and testing integrated, interdisciplinary, evidence-based plans of care for patients in need.

These new plans are converse to the pharmacologically based, broad-brush, and selectively financially motivated systems currently in place.

Instead, these organizations are working to implement personalized treatment plans consisting of a mix of practices including acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, aerobic exercise, stabilization exercise, resistance exercise, manipulation, and massage therapy.


Though massage therapy is written off by many Americans as a luxury experience for those who have the time and money to relax and be pampered, anyone who engages in massage therapy for a specific pain (acute or chronic) knows that it can be a genuine saving grace when it comes to pain management—a fact that is now being both recognized and heavily relied upon in the health sphere.

For centuries, humankind has anecdotally known of copious mental and physical benefits brought about by massage, but there is also heaps of ongoing research being conducted to assess the efficacy of massage therapy essentially in lieu of medications for pain.

Preliminarily, it appears even clinically true that substituting licensed massage therapy for opioids is quite credible care when well-applied. Of course, there will always be extreme cases in which medication is absolutely necessary, and the massage therapy community acknowledges that massage will be one of a number of pillars working together to help each patient on a case-by-case basis.

On top of being safer and more accessible though, this change in pain management models is also forecasted to greatly dampen costs for each person receiving treatment, as well as for insurance companies and the American government.


I’m sure we can all agree that being in pain is the pits, and as we discussed in last month’s post on dry needling, muscular pain—which is so much more prevalent than we realize—HURTS.

Severe muscle pains are sneaky, too, because they can result seemingly from nothing major at all.

Whether from the abyss or a specific ailment or injury, however, muscle pains can easily and quickly convince us of an often false existence of a larger medical condition.

So, here’s the leap:

It’s understandable that folks in pain trust their doctors and the prescriptions they’re given. It’s understandable that folks in extreme or chronic pain may take whatever they can get to make it go away so they can get on with their lives and/or avoid more suffering.

It’s normal for us to hear a diagnosis from a medical professional and feel validated in our pain. Without knowing any better or different, what choice do we have but to do what the doctor recommends? That’s their job, and we look up to them as knowing the right course of action.

Furthermore, with many everyday medications, we are told that the warnings on the bottles and boxes largely pertain to extreme situations, so even those who read them are already conditioned to take those with a grain of salt. If our prescriber is suggesting it and telling us it’s okay, 99% of us are not going to question it.

The odds of us recognizing the potential perils of opioids on our own was next to none.


While I clearly believe that the victims of the opioid crisis ARE victims, I can’t help but also circle around to the ideas I find myself so often landing upon as my thoughts come to a close on any subject surrounding the state of health in our culture.

There is no trick.

In a lecture I recently watched on the opioid crisis and the changing state of pain management, a celebrated leader in the integrative pain arena named Dr. Heather Tick said something that really stuck with me.

It seems like a no-brainer, but it frames the issue so well – she roughly said that “if the outcomes of taking care of ourselves were a drug, we’d all take it.”

I mean, she’s not wrong, is she?

As with our weight and outward appearance, we seek the path of least resistance when dealing with our pain, and we often ignore the personal responsibility we could take for our daily actions.

Our bodies are made for walking, movement, and intuitive living, not sugar, sitting, and sleep deprivation. Even if they seem “normal,” we have the ability to recognize our habits and take control of our physical health before we get to the point of serious pain and willingness to take pills to make it go away.

It’s not that deep. We’re not sick in a way that requires prescriptions, whether anyone wants to believe it or not.

The brightest lining of the opioid crisis is the fact that major health organizations in our nation are now taking a stand against pharmaceutical dominance and actually suggesting treatments that will tackle the source of our pain at the root and ultimately make us happier, healthier people.

Our communities will benefit, our families will benefit, and our own sense of self-worth will benefit, and I’m so thrilled that massage therapy will be utilized to help cultivate all this good that we so desperately need.

“Pain is a biopsychosocial condition often requiring integrated, patient-centered, evidence-based, multimodal and interdisciplinary care.” – Dr. Robert Kerns

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