Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice

I have never before devoted my blog to a book review, but I’m doing that this time, because (other than my own books, of course) I think this is one of the most important books that has been published for our profession. I’m speaking of Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice, edited by Trish Dryden, MEd, RMT of Centennial College, Toronto, and Dr. Christopher Moyer, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie. This book was published by Human Kinetics and has only been out for a few months. I got my copy about a month ago, and I’d like to see one in the hands of every massage therapist, every student of massage, and in particular, every massage therapy educator.

The contributors to this book are an impressive group of people. Besides Dryden and Moyer, there are contributions from Janet R. Kahn, PhD, LMT, who has one of the most impressive resumes in the galaxy, culminating in a recent appointment by President Obama as a Member, Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health; Diana Thompson, LMP, former President of the Massage Therapy Foundation; Bodhi Haraldsson, RMT, Research Director at the Massage Therapists Association of British Columbia; Albert Moraska, Assistant Professor of Research at the University of Colorado at Denver, and a couple of dozen other highly-educated people with an interest in the evidence-supported practice of massage therapy.

The layperson sometimes panics at the word “research.” People get the erroneous idea that they can’t read, much less conduct, a research project unless they have a doctorate in elementary statistics. Although this book introduces some complicated (at least to me) concepts, they’re broken down into plain enough language that anyone can understand.

The explanations of qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as mixed methods of research, has enlightened me. I don’t mind saying that while I have supported the Massage Therapy Foundation to the best of my ability, and been a vocal proponent of the evidence-informed practice of massage for the past few years, I realize after reading this book just how in the dark I’ve been about the particulars of what actually constitutes valid research.

The main purpose of the book is to introduce massage therapists to the various concepts of research, and how to apply that information to your every-day practice of massage.  There is a whole section, Populations and Conditions, that contains chapters on working with pediatric clients, pregnant clients, athletes, geriatric clients, and adults with a history of sexual trauma. The conditions that are covered include back pain, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, cancer, and anxiety and depression–the things that we are all confronted with on a regular basis.

Ruth Werner, current President of the Massage Therapy Foundation, contributed the Foreword to the book. She states the five crucial things that this book addresses:

1. It makes the compelling case that research literacy is a necessary skill even among entry-level massage therapists.

2. It introduces key concepts in a way that is both simple and accurate. Werner states that “As a teacher of a complex topic, I know how often the tipping point between simplicity and accuracy is narrow indeed.”

3. It emphasizes the application of research by giving clear examples of tying published findings to everyday practice scenarios.

4. By emphasizing the practical application of research findings, it acknowledge the importance of the feedback loop that must exist between clinicians and researchers.

5. It lays the groundwork for its own future development as the mass of evidence about massage therapy continues to grow.

Every time a client comes out of the treatment room and says “I feel better,” yes; that’s evidence. However, resting on those kinds of laurels is a big mistake, in my opinion. There are many massage therapists (other than myself and the contributors to this book) who want to see massage therapy gain the respect we think it deserves. The way to do that is research, research, research, and more research.

We don’t all have to BE researchers. We DO all need to know where to find it and how to make heads or tails out of it. Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice, is the only book that I am familiar with that explains it so that those of us who are not scientists can understand it. I urge you to get this book. And as I mentioned earlier how important I think this is for massage therapy educators, let me go a step further and say that if you are teaching in a school that does not address the need for research literacy, then you be the change in that. It is doing students–not to mention the massage-seeking public–a huge disservice to ignore the subject.

While I’m on the topic, The Massage Therapy Foundation has a free toolbar you can download from their website to keep in touch with the latest research developments. Research costs money. I encourage you to donate to the Foundation in whatever amount you can afford to give. Every dollar helps.

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