August 14, 1998

By Kate Coleman / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

What's the first thing you do when you stub your toe?

You rub it, answers Margie Schaeffer.

It's as automatic as a mother's comforting hug when her child scrapes a knee.

Touch is the most natural form of healing, according to Schaeffer, a nationally certified massage therapist, who has operated Synergy Therapeutic Massage Center and Training School in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. since 1996.

--cont. from lifestyle--

Linda Weller also believes in the power of touch. The registered nurse has worked in the dialysis unit at Western Maryland Hospital Center for 22 years. She has seen positive effects just from holding a patient's hand. She attended Baltimore School of Massage and became a nationally certified massage therapist in June.


Schaeffer and Weller are two of a growing number of practitioners of therapy that was mentioned in Chinese medical texts as early as 3000 B.C. Hippocrates, the 5th- and 4th-century B.C. Greek physician for whom doctor's oath of ethics is named noted that physicians must be experienced in many things, but "assuredly in rubbing."

Jan Tritapoe, 64, a retired teacher who lives in Boonsboro, recently had her first massage. Considering it a luxury, she was reluctant to try it for years. Now she'd like to make it a regular part of taking care of herself.

"It was just about the most relaxing thing I've ever experienced," she says.

Gerry Fix, 46, a Hagerstown homemaker, also had her first massage recently. A slight problem with her back gave her the excuse she felt she needed to have the massage. She considered it extravagant. It cost approximately $50.

She says she got a lot for her money and is convinced of the benefits.

"If I had the money, I'd have one every week," she says.

Wendell Wilson, a resident of Western Maryland Hospital Center, has other reasons for having massages. Wilson, 48, was paralyzed in a 1994 hit-and-run accident in Baltimore. Although he is classified quadriplegic, Wilson has some limited movement in his arms and hands.

For the past few months, Wilson has been getting massages from Edward Weller, a nationally certified massage therapist in private practice in Hagerstown, who volunteers his time at Western Maryland Hospital Center.

Edward Weller, Linda Weller's husband, a member of the adjunct faculty at Baltimore School of Massage, believes that massage is helping Wilson.

MassageMassage improves circulation and helps move lymph, the fluid that carries waste away from body tissues, according to Edward Weller. This is particularly important in a person who is paralyzed, because the person can't move.

Wilson believes that massage is helping him.

He's had trouble manipulating the hand controls on his wheelchair, and he says his body would "seize up" with muscle spasms.

He's seen an increase in his range of motion. His "toleration time," time spent sitting in his wheelchair, has been extended, according to Patty Henry, a registered nurse at the hospital.

Henry notes that Wilson also has been treated at the pain clinic at Washington County Hospital. She believes both therapies are helping him.

Although massage therapy is gaining wider acceptance, when it comes to health care, skeptics want proof in the form of studies done according to scientific standards.

Touch Research Institute is doing just that. Founded in 1992 by Tiffany Field at University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Fla., Touch Research Institute has studied touch and its application in science and medicine. The institute has shown that "touch therapy" can help premature infants gain weight, positively alter the immune system, reduce pain, stress and depressive symptoms.

Another organization investigating the power of touch is Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to creating a more compassionate and open-minded type of health care and health-care education.

"People are really ready to take a different kind of look," says Carol Goldberg, the center's assistant director. The number of physicians attending the center's public workshops on mind-body medicine has increased every year, she adds.

Schaeffer doesn't reject doctors or traditional medicine. She goes to a doctor when she believes it's necessary.

And Schaeffer says she knows that for many people, it can be easier to go to a doctor's office and take a pill.

Her approach is different: she's always been looking for what would help her. As a massage therapist she's not out to "fix" people. Her relationship with clients is a partnership. She hopes to reduce their stress and help empower them to care for themselves.


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> American Massage Therapy Association, founded in 1943, is an international organization representing 33,000 massage therapists.

The association initiated the creation of the national certification board for the profession. In order to take the certification test, massage therapists need 500 hours of formal training, including courses in anatomy, physiology and ethics.

AMTA has a National Locator Service to help consumers and medical professionals find qualified massage therapists. Call 1-847-864-0123.

AMTA's address on the Web is

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> For information on Touch Research Institute's research, visit the center's Web site at

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