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.

6 Replies to “Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice”

  1. As a massage therapist, I regularly search on Google about the topics to get new ideas and posts written on this topics. Today I come around your great post. It will help me a lot in my work as a therapist. I am honestly saying thank you for this good work.

  2. The thing about the book though was that it said that there isn’t any evidence for most conditions that we freely talk about as being helped by massage. I was disappointed that there were not more things that had more good research showing that it worked. Most things talked about in the book just said, research shows some promise but we are really a long way from proving anything and what really is proof? how many research studies will it take to say – Yes massage can help get rid of fibromyalgia? While I am waiting for the research, I have helped hundreds of people with it throughout my career all without any research. I thought while reading the book if the whole thing was to just get more money for research. While research might help, it isn’t all it is cracked up to be really. How can you really do a massage in a research environment and measure all the variables? From some of the studies I have seen, it is researchers doing a massage broken up into 15 minute increments and working in a specific way through the body – who really does that?

    I went to the research conference, took the ABMP research class here in Seattle, read a few books on research and still don’t get it and still could not tell you what a study says or doesn’t say. I personally don’t have time to weed through all the boring statistics and things like that because they mean nothing to me. But someone should be doing that for us….that’s what I thought the MTF would do or the many researchers that like doing that. Each study needs to be looked at one by one and discussed, pulled apart and interpreted for MT. They are the best qualified to do that and the most interested. Right now the best evidence we have for massage is around anxiety and depression and insurance won’t cover that here (In WA Stat) but it covers fibromyalgia and other things like carpal tunnel, back pain and any physical complaint that only show to be promising according to the book. So what good is it doing us? And how will this info get into the schools? The presentation by Tracy Walton on the sacred cows says it all but even then schools are hesitant to change their tune and are way behind. Then there is all the bashing of people on FB when the researchers talk about Reiki and toxins and all the other things that that puts people against each other. It is splitting the massage profession apart, more than it is bringing it together. People take it personally when they challenge what they make their living at and what they see that works everyday for them – even if it supposedly doesn’t work like they say it does – or that is the story from Moyer. How is all this going to come together? Inquiring minds – me- wants to know! (Yes somehow talk on research always seems to get me stirred up!)


  3. Hi,
    it is true that researches are very important and I think massage therapists should be given the ability to read researches properly. I have just finished a bachelor degree in health science on Alternative an Complementary medicine as an extension of my massage diplomas ( all done in Australia) and I did a subject on Evidence Based Practice and it was great because it helped a lot to read with a bit more background some researches on massage therapy. Through you can also receive weekly email on new researches available on the topics of your choice. Thank you for talking about this book, it seems very interesting.

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