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Southeast Medical Clinic booming in massage therapy

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Southeast Medical Clinic’s massage therapy department has boomed since its modest start a few years ago. The clinic’s professionals explain the growing demand for alternative medical therapies goes a long way in Juneau.

MICHAEL PENN / JUNEAU EMPIRE
MICHAEL PENN / JUNEAU EMPIRE

The clinic’s proprietor, Dr. Catherine Peimann, started the massage therapy division in January of 2007 after she realized more patients were becoming aware of the therapy and were requesting it. Peimann found herself giving many massage referrals and decided to investigate bringing that aspect to her own clinic.

“Basically, I did it in response to what my patients were interested in,” she said. Many of those patients expressed interest in therapeutic massage by chiropractors but wanted more information on it. “It was something I was seeing a demand for and thought it would be nice to do in our office.”

She hired Evelyn Bass to begin managing the massage therapy department. Bass was completing her study of the therapy at the National Holistic Institute in Emeryville, Calif. She brought her knowledge of the technique as well as the issues requiring it, trends and billing.

Bass began as the sole massage therapist and took on nine patients her first week. Four years later, the clinic has grown to hold four therapists and one alternate, with the clinic getting around 75 patients each week.

“So really it’s gone from a few referrals for musculoskeletal issues to all sorts of issues,” said Bass.

Peimann said word-of-mouth is responsible for a lot of this growth, and a lot of it comes from referrals. She said many patients have praised the relief it’s provided and have returned.

Bass described how massage therapy is used to treat a variety of both acute and chronic conditions that many aren’t aware of when thinking about massage. She said the first referrals were from doctors within the clinic and were mostly for neck and back pain, then those expanded to outside referrals for broader issues like arthritis, orthopedics and musculoskeletal issues. Referrals are now coming in from neurologists, oncologists, dentists and a rheumatologist. Some referrals come from outside the city.

She said one patient with ankylosing spondylitis has been able to remain active and other patients have gotten off pain medications and avoided surgeries.

“One of the biggest things we’ve helped with is prevention,” Bass said of the benefits. “Massage is one of the least risky interventions you can do that’s helpful.”

Bass said the treatments are low-risk and cost-effective, adding to the increase of patients.

Bass said massage therapy is covered by most major insurance providers in Alaska, excluding Medicare and Medicaid.

“We’re hoping to see insurance help cover people with hypertension because massage is proven to lower high blood pressure,” she said.

Peimann said she isn’t sure if the clinic’s growth stems from an increased demand for the therapy or from increased awareness, but it’s definitely something that’s called for here.

“Especially in Alaska, I think there’s an interest in alternative therapies. A lot want natural treatments. Patients find it helpful and it doesn’t involve drugs or medications,” she said.

She said people can become wary from reading about studies that find problems or side effects in medications and surgeries, saying, “Massage is something they can benefit from and there’s not a lot of downside.”

The National Institutes of Health has put out studies for alternative therapies through the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. However, Peimann said this can be a difficult research area because there are no placebos that can be used in such studies.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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