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WNY massage therapy gaining respect for health benefits


Don’t tell Cheryl Krouse that massage therapy is all about feeling pampered. Sure, that may be part of the equation but the practice continues to evolve into one based more and more on health and wellness.

“It’s finally becoming something that’s highly respected,” said Krouse, director of the massage therapy program at Trocaire College, based in the school’s South Buffalo site. “Doctors are referring to massage therapy. Chiropractors have for many years. Other professionals are working with us hand in hand.”

The power of human touch has been around since humanity began but modern massage therapy emerged more than a century ago, when early practitioners helped people recover from surgery and amputations, Krouse said. Its use has grown slowly, but steadily, through the last four decades as therapists and their clients looked to address pain, stress and sports performance.

[BELOW: Find a licensed massage therapist near you]

More than half of those who receive a massage these days say it’s mostly for health or medical reasons, according to the American Massage Association.

Krouse and others who advocate the practice say there are good reasons that number should be higher.


Massage therapy involves pressing, rubbing and manipulating the skin to impact muscles, tendons and ligaments and help with blood and lymph system circulation. There are dozens of varieties, including several with different aims and advantages. They generally break down into four areas, according to the association:

Swedish: The most common form in the U.S. is designed to relax and energize.

Deep tissue: Addresses muscle damage, often from neck and back strains and injuries.

Sports: Designed to prevent athletic injuries, boost flexibility and bolster recovery.

Chair: Upper body massage focuses on the back and is performed while the client is seated.

Talk with your doctor and health team about what type of massage might be best for you.


“You don’t just treat the injury or the pathology that made you sick, you treat the whole body from inside out," says Cheryl Krause, center, program director of the Trocaire Massage Therapy Program, flanked by instructor Rachel Ersing, left, and students Brook Drewiega and Dave Lelito.

“A massage helps improve circulation. It mobilizes lactic acid out of muscles,” said Dr. Richard Vienne, vice president and chief medical officer at Univera Healthcare, and a primary care doctor with Lifetime Health Medical Group in Amherst. It also can ease pain and anxiety, Krouse said, and works well with other therapies that offer similar benefits, including chiropractic, acupuncture, primary care, and physical therapy.

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“The idea is that everyone is working together,” Krouse said. “You don’t just treat the injury or the pathology that made you sick, you treat the whole body from inside out.” She and her program already work with Buffalo Hospice and aim to play a role with those who will use the recently opened Roswell Park Cancer Institute Survivorship and Supportive Care Center. Expectant moms also have used massage as part of their in prenatal care.


Slightly more than half of those who participated in the American Massage Therapy Association survey released last year said they got their most recent massage for medical or health reasons, including pain relief and management, muscle soreness or stiffness relief, injury recovery, to stay healthy and fit, or as part of prenatal care.

One in three said they got a massage to relieve stress while roughly one in 10 said they did so to pamper themselves.

Those who responded to the survey reported getting an average of five massages during the previous year. The association also reported that about nine in 10 consumers believe massage helps reduce pain and bolster health and wellness.


Pamela Pawenski, vice president of sales with Univera Healthcare, gets a massage once a month. “I think it’s extremely therapeutic,” she said. “I feel much better after I walk out of there.” Still, she said, health insurance plans “very rarely” cover the practice as a medical necessity. Instead, they see it as a “lifestyle benefit” that can cost those who get one $50 to $100 an hour.

Univera, Independent Health and many other insurers provide debit and reward cards – often worth about $200 a year – with many of their plans so members can try wellness services that include massage therapy. It’s possible such therapy may one day be required as part of a health insurance plan – chiropractic and physical therapy are two examples that have shifted in this way – but for now those who can foresee long-term benefits will need to pay out of pocket. Many employers help soften the blow by allowing massage therapy to be paid through a pretax Medical Savings Account. There also are three massage therapy schools that offer discounted rates so their students can get their required clinical training hours.


Massage therapy training leans heavily on anatomy, biology and other sciences. Trocaire instructor and licensed massage therapist Jonathan McDonnell works with first-year student Stephanie Knapp, of Angola.

Trocaire, Niagara County Community College and New York Institute of Massage programs focus classroom training on anatomy, physiology, biology and muscle movement. Students also learn how to run a small business. Instructors oversee students as they work in clinical settings that mirror those you will find in a health and wellness center.

“They learn massage from day one out,” Krouse said. “Their last semester, they’re pretty much running the show. We’re just here if they need us. And they have to know how the body works so they can help people and not hurt them.” New York State requires 1,000 hours of clinical training and passage of an intensive exam to become a licensed massage therapist.


Brook Drewiega will attend Daemen College in the fall after receiving her associate's degree in licensed massage therapy this spring from Trocaire College.

The number of massage therapists has increased 33 percent nationwide during the last decade. Krouse encourages her students to “layer their skills.” Some have gone on to chiropractic school or for other health degrees.

Brook Drewiega, of Hamburg, will graduate in May, then enroll at Daemen College in Amherst toward a bachelor’s in complementary and alternative health care practices specialization.

“I really wanted to get a four-year degree,” Drewiega said. “Eventually, I’d like to own a wellness center that includes massage, chiropractic and yoga.”

The job market is vast – and growing.

“In the last couple of years, the career has sort of re-emerged,” said Thomas Pinckney, a former instructor at the New York Institute of Massage who has been the NCCC program director the last three years. “Employers are calling me now and asking me for people.”

Therapists can work part-time at more than one place, Krouse said, or in some cases full-time, with benefits. “That didn’t exist when I graduated in 1999,” she said. There are jobs on cruise ships, and at resorts, hospitals, chiropractic offices, and wellness and community centers.

“There are thousands of jobs available all across the country,” Krouse said, and, because New York licensure is the most demanding in the U.S., “our students can take their education and easily transfer it.”


The American Massage Therapy Association lists 135 license massage therapists in the greater Buffalo area on its website, These therapists work in health and wellness centers, as well in their own offices. Some will travel to corporate offices and homes. Discounts often are offered for new clients.

Students in three massage therapy programs also provide services, generally at a lower cost:

New York Institute of Massage

4701 Transit Road, Clarence, south of Sheridan Drive.

Hourlong Swedish massage costs $40 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. To make an appointment, call 633-0355, Option 2.

Trocaire College

2262 Seneca St., South Buffalo

Hourlong massages cost $35 and run from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday during the school year. To schedule an appointment, call 827-2518 or 827-2545.

Niagara County Community College

Science Annex Building, Room CA-111, 3111 Saunders Settlement Road, Sanborn

Thirty- and 60-minute massages are free from noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. 2:30 p.m. Friday. To schedule an appointment, call 614-6851.

Massage therapy resources from the Buffalo & Erie County Libraries

“Therapeutic Medical Massage: The healing touch,” Michael Stiers

“Foot Massage: Simple ways to revive, soothe, pamper and feel fabulous all over,” Renée Tanner

“Massage for Sport Performance,” Michael McGillicuddy

“Guide to Reflexology: Relieve pain, reduce stress, and bring balance to your life,” Yoga Journal

“Massage Therapy Kit” (instuctional DVDs), Jill Miller


Twitter: @BNrefresh




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