Massage Therapy Research

massage therapy research

ELAP Recommendation:  3 hours of instruction on research literacy, the learner is expected to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the terms and concepts related to research literacy on a written examination.
  • Work with a peer group to analyze two research articles, discriminate between reliable and unreliable research, and determine two massage forms or session adaptations that demonstrate efficacy based on research, and share findings with classmates on a graded activity.

Key Concepts:

  • Research literacy defined.
  • Evidence-based practice defined (e.g., what is it, why is it important, what skills are needed, etc.).
  • Evidence Informed Practice

When a sufficient amount of high-quality research exists, a method can be considered research based. Massage research is getting much better, but it has a long way to go before sufficient high-quality research is available to consider massage therapy a research-based system. This means that massage therapy cannot justifiably be considered an evidence-based practice, either. Massage therapy fits much better in an evidence-informed model. Evidence-informed practice (EIP) avoids scientific prejudices and superstitions, sometimes called pseudoscience. It requires that practitioners become knowledgeable about a wide range of sources (i.e., empirical studies, case studies, and clinical insights) and use them in creative ways throughout the massage therapy process, supporting a client-centered approach to care.

Fritz, Sandy; Fritz, Luke. Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage – E-Book (Amazon affiliate link to Kindle Locations 9767-9773). Elsevier Health Sciences. Kindle Edition.

• Historic and modern sources of massage knowledge (e.g., started with empirical evidence, people then relied on textbook authors or well-known teachers, now a move to research where results are based on efficacy of particular methods, etc.).

• Locating information (e.g., where massage therapists can access research: journals, websites, organizations, etc.).

• Research defined (e.g., what is it, what types of questions are relevant, etc.).

• Research study types (e.g., a case report/case study, case series, correlation study, etc.).

• Research articles (e.g., their parts and how to read them).

• Applying findings (e.g., how to take results and use them to inform a practice).

BOK : Preface. Qualitative and quantitative research heightens every aspect of massage therapy. Massage therapists informed by all domains of scientific research support the efficacy of the field. Evidence-based practice supported by research facilitates therapeutic outcomes and professional dialogue. Each of the sections within the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge is informed by research.

Knowledge: Understand the necessity and process of scientific investigation, its importance to the massage therapy profession, literature review skills, information literacy and relevant terminology.

The professional necessity, importance and further development of the research body of literature regarding massage therapy. The scientific process relating to evidence-based knowledge, medicine and massage therapy practice

Before you get into reading and understanding research, you will want to start with Science Literacy and understanding how science works.

Science Literacy

As massage therapists, many of the things that have been taught in massage school have been based on tradition and the lack of scientific research. Some of the traditions handed down in massage school are just that- traditions with no scientific backing.

Science vs Pseudoscience – “Pseudoscience speaks to powerful emotional needs that Science often leaves unfulfilled. It caters to fantasies about personal powers we lack and long for like those attributed to superheros and religious gods.” ~Carl Sagan. The Demon Haunted World (Amazon affiliate link)

Critical Thinking – To think critically about claims, means we cannot always accept that the explanation provided to us is the most correct. We need to think analytically and consider alternative explanations. Also, low-quality evidence, like anecdotes, or expert opinions, or even pseudoscientific claims, are still useful for providing scientists the opportunity to generate testable rival hypotheses. Generating rival hypotheses allow us to follow the scientific method and systematically collect and evaluate evidence to better inform our general explanations. 

What gets in the way of critical thinking?
Correlation is not causation. Studies must be replicable. We need to stay away from extraordinary claims. Ocam’s razor and more.

Logical Fallacies or inaccurate ways of thinking that get in the way of science. There are a list of fallacies that get in the way of thinking.

Scientific Method is how scientist put this all together. It requires much more training and education that is way beyond what we could ever learn in massage school. I just touch on it here but it requires Masters and Doctorate Degrees to really understand and implement the scientific method.

Massage Research Literacy.

Massage Therapy Research is an important part of the future of the massage profession.  As massage therapists struggle to become more recognized as a health care profession and also more accepted by the general public as a valid method of stress and healing, massage research can assist the profession in moving ahead. Research can help you build a more successful massage business even if you are not planning on billing insurance.  The more we know about massage and how it works, the more people will start to understand why massage is important to their health – not just avoiding or treating injuries or problems but can be as necessary as flossing your teeth (You do floss, don’t you?)

Learning how to read and understand research is a part of this all.  When you hear about studies on the news or read about a study in a magazine, you can not just assume that it is a good study.  There are many factors to interpreting research and also learning to use research in your work as a massage therapist – everything from what techniques you use, what you say to clients, how you interact with doctors – all require that you take the time to take a study apart and question what it is saying.

Research Literacy Course Outline:

  • The importance of the peer review process and critical appraisal of published research.
  • Electronic literacy skills, including the effective use of search engines, online databases and determination of information quality (i.e., accuracy of web-based information).
  • Key components of research methodologies:
  • Scientific method (observation, hypothesis, experiment, conclusions).
  • Types of research studies and their importance.
  • Qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • The key parts of a scientific paper (abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion and conclusion).
  • Key terms relating to research.
  • Impact of bias on research.
  • Research ethics.
  • Method of formulating a basic research question and creating a rigorous case study.
  • Differentiation between a case study and a case history.
  • Identification of personal methods used to keep up to date on new research developments.


  • Demonstrate the ability to find and use scientific databases.
  • Search the literature on a specific topic and obtain a complete copy of relevant and reliable articles.


  • Develop an inquiring mind and question current massage therapy practice.
  • Discuss the validity and reliability of literature sources.
  • Read and assess current massage therapy and related literature for its strengths and weaknesses.
  • Communicate current research knowledge to clients, colleagues and the public.
  • Explain ways to support, collaborate and participate in massage therapy and/or related research.

Why do we need research?

The problems with researching massage.

Key Concepts:

  • Abstract
  • Case report/study
  • Case series
  • Case control study
  • Clinical trial
  • Correlation study
  • Empirical evidence
  • Evidence informed massage practice
  • Massage Therapy Foundation
  • Meta-analysis
  • Methods/methodology
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Placebo effect
  • PubMed
  • References
  • Reliability
  • Research
  • Research literacy
  • Results/findings
  • Systematic review
  • Touch Research Institute

Popular research topics:

  • Massage and Back Pain
  • Massage and Depression/Anxiety
  • Massage for relief of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Infant Massage/Pregnancy Massage/Fertility Massage
  • Massage for relief of stress
  • Fibromyalgia and massage
  • Headaches and massage
  • Massage and cancer

Classes on Research

Books on Research

Websites on Research.

Elevating Massage Therapy With Evidence-Based Resources, Richard Lebert, LMT. – Paul Ingrams website.

Working with the Medical Profession to build your massage business

My past struggles with understanding research.

To the massage researchers. 2010

I still don’t get research. 2014

Massage therapy research conference 2016 on