By Pam McDonald

Massage Therapist Cory Scurlock describes the value of touch and the many benefits of therapeutic massage in an interview with Pam McDonald, Podcast Producer and Co-Host. Cory founded The Massage Inc., a program that brings affordable, geriatric massage to senior living. She also leads Pam through several self-massage exercises. To learn more about Massage Inc, visit its website. Listen to the podcast episode here. Below are some takeaways from that interview.

I founded The Massage Inc., which is now the only national provider of geriatric massage for RCFE facilities of all kinds: assisted living, memory care, independent, and 55-plus communities. We’re on a mission to provide affordable and quality massage therapy to the senior living world.

The benefits of touch have long been studied. Touch is actually for survival and we can see it very simply in primates. We’re biochemically dependent on healthy touch. For example, at birth, mothers and babies use touch to connect; the baby’s survival depends on touch, that first touch.

We Need Touch for Survival

There’s an image that always comes to mind of cute snow monkeys in Japan huddling together. That is not only a demonstration of touch for survival because it’s cold, but also shows how touch is a universal language and plays into society. So, we see it more evidently there, but even for us humans, it’s a language, it’s a universal language.

So, when you say seniors are missing that touch, you can’t even overstate that. What really drove me to create my own personal mission was when I saw what touch through massage could do for a lonely senior in assisted living. That was a game-changer for me. Someone who might not be visited that day or that week or that month could get that regular connection with massage.

All therapeutic touch has to last for a while, and there’s two steps to that. First of all, let’s take a hug for example. There is a scientific difference and a palpable difference between a genuine hug versus the not-genuine form. Also, a 2-second hug compared to a 10-second embrace, that’s what we call that, feels different and is backed up scientifically.

A Library of the Benefits of Touch and Massage

Massage is the use of touch through tapping, kneading, percussion and other movements to promote the best muscular structure, wellbeing, and health of a person. So, it’s a lot of different forms of touch sewn together.

We’re a little late in studying it. Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York has done a phenomenal job. They really were the first to widely integrate massage in their treatments. They’ve got this library of information of studies from outpatient and inpatient settings of the use of massage therapy. Of course, this is focused around the treatment of their patients, but gosh, they were able to quantify all kinds of things. With a once-in-a-while massage, the effects are gone when measured 24-48 hours afterward. The number one takeaway of all their case studies is that the effects show up when the massage is regular, consistent. 

Some people believe there’s this exchange of data between the person on the table and a therapist. I call it the “massage table therapy couch”. This is a good example just of somatic release, which does other great, wonderful things. I could spend all day talking about the goodness and the benefits of massage. 

Geriatric Massage Can Be Medically Necessary Not Just A Luxury

Geriatric massage is a specific massage because, simply said, you can’t massage a 25-year-old the same way you would an 85-year-old. The muscle tissue is different, the elasticity of the skin is different, so the massage has to be different. It’s similar to pregnancy or oncology massage. Benefits of massage are the same across the board, but geriatric patients generally have certain ailments, diseases, or pains that other demographics don’t have.

What we see commonly for geriatric patients is a lot about circulation. Lymphedema is a really good example. Where someone has the need for a lymphatic drainage massage, that’s medically necessary and it can be a do-or-die thing. It’s not a luxury. And, geriatric massage has a pretty significant effect on decreasing Parkinson’s tremors. In assisted living, especially in memory care, people sleep better, and there’s less wandering.

Unfortunately, [Medicare does] not yet [cover] massage, although we forecast that it will. In fact, I myself have been working with legislators and lawmakers advocating for that. There’s a higher probability of insurance starting to pay for it, both Medicare and private, because of the changes we’re going to see in the industry. There is a financial need to look at the cost-benefit of each therapy. Massage is one that translates to so many benefits, affecting young and old.

Additional Uses and Benefits

We’re going to be doing a study. We wrote a pilot program and a massage therapy foundation and an assisted living center in New Jersey picked it up. So, we’re going to know in a year from now the actual effects of geriatric massage on residents of a memory care facility. Colleges and hospitals, too, are starting to look at it.

PTSD is being treated widely with massage therapy and has huge effects on reducing anxiety. Boosting the immune system is one of my more favorite benefits. With this pandemic, we may think that we need to take our vitamins. There are studies that show that the effects of regular massage do just as much for boosting the immune system as vitamins can. Again, that’s on a regular basis, but that’s a big impact on a body.

I jokingly say, why see a shrink when you can get a massage, because it’s not that expensive. That’s how I look at it – cost-benefit. In the last decade, massage has become really affordable and widely available. The emergence of 40 dollar, 20-minute foot rubs has become a really popular thing. That was not on the market even five or ten years ago. Now you can afford it and zip in just as fast as you could buy a cup of coffee.

Benefits to Senior Living Communities Themselves

My organization of massage therapists only provide massage to residents of assisted living, to staff, and family members. They are licensed, insured, massage therapists to begin with. Then I put them through a training program that I designed — only out of necessity. It just did not exist when I needed to train on a larger scale. I looked around to find regulatory boards to make sure that our content was meeting their requirements. I was shocked, disappointed really, to find there were none. So, by happenstance, our training has become the standard.

In the past, we worked as a vendor and we charged the resident themselves. Our prices were a dollar a minute, so $60, could get you a massage. But it was really important to me personally because I saw the relation between the benefits of regular massage and the need to make it affordable for someone living on a fixed income. So, now we partner with the home itself and created a package they are able to give to their residents. It’s also being used as an employee benefit.

When a resident is receiving regular massage, their family may come to visit more often. That’s a win-win because they’re so happy. We have touched them both physically and emotionally and I can’t think of a better thing. The community itself benefits; it gives them a great reputation. It gives our partners a competitive edge, so sales and marketing are benefited by it. You can fill rooms.

Self-Massage Techniques

In this time when we’re all stressed out and we can’t do touch, I would encourage everyone to do one thing – take a deep breath. And when I say a deep breath, I specifically mean feel your lower ribs. When you take a breath all the way in to fully expand your diaphragm, you want to feel those lower ribs expand laterally. That’s a full breath. It takes practice, but that will produce some of the same benefits as massage. 

With stress, our sympathetic nervous systems kick in. Women typically put that stress in their shoulders and will begin to shrug their shoulders up. Whereas men typically put that stress in their low back and start to complain about low back issues. We don’t really know why that is, but taking those deep breaths and specifically when you can engage that lower diaphragm, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in just as it would in a massage. And so, if we can’t give a massage or we can’t hold hands, we can breathe together.

Another self-massage technique is for the headache acupressure point. So, if you take your hand and you’re looking at the webbing between your thumb and your index finger, pinch that spot with the thumb and fingers of your other hand. You can feel all that meat right there and you just roll it. You’re using the tissue against itself. 

It centers us, it reconnects us. It realigns our energy. It’s so important and it’s been around for years. I think it is the very first documented mention of a recognized modality of treating pain. We need to take a second look at massage therapy, both for young and old as having legitimate value and significant impact. It can be leveraged for a variety of ailments and symptoms to benefit the whole person. We need to shift from considering massage a luxury service to something everybody needs, can afford, and deserves.