The problems with researching massage

There are many problems that arise when doing research on massage therapy.  You will find many of these are objections from the massage therapists themselves as to why we should have or even use research in massage.  The biggest problem is how do you really measure what happens in a session and recreate a real massage in a controlled environment?  Massage is not done in a controlled environment where a particular type of massage is done on a particular body part for a specified amount of time.  The way most massage works is that the massage therapist will let their hands and ‘gut feelings’ lead the massage.  How do you really measure or recreate that?

How do you measure the amount of pressure or the massage technique that is done?  You can teach a 12 MT a specific technique and it will be done 12 different ways with each persons own unique touch and intention behind the technique. How do you regulate or measure the amount of pressure that is applied and how do you regulate or measure the exact spot in each muscle or muscle group so that you know exactly what it is that is making the difference?

There is also nothing really in massage that could replicate the idea of a placebo or sugar pill.  You can hand someone a pill that they don’t know what is in it, but how do you really do that with massage?

How do you control for all of the other factors in a persons life also – I guess that is a problem with all research – was it the intervention or the change in diet that they made or them getting more sleep or them living their life.

Yet one of the ways we will get the insurance companies and the general public’s attention is with having more research.  The insurance companies especially are moving toward using research to determine where they spend their money for their patients – what works best for the money spent.  It is also just as important to have research for the spa or relaxation division of the massage profession.  Spa massage, heat and special spa therapies are just as important in healing.

Getting massage therapists interested in research is another part of this challenge.  They are taught various techniques in school that are actually not proven scientifically and the research that is done to support various modalities is usually flawed in some way but massage therapists do not really know it because they are not trained in research literacy and more importantly – they see these same things work when they practice it.   When the ‘researchers’ show up and say something doesn’t work to the many massage therapists who are practicing that modality – it is like a slap in the face (even though the researchers that I have interacted with online don’t mean it that way- their approach is very well for lack of a better work -egotistical).   That is not going to get any points for research!  From what I understand so far in this process of learning about research is that it isn’t that it doesn’t work but more of the way that it is explained as to how it does work -(does that make any sense?)  For example – research does not support the practice of Reiki but there are many massage therapists, nurses and even people in hospitals and hospice units who practice it.  It does work but the reason it does work is a mystery really or so it is said to be by science.  Is it the therapeutic presence?  Most likely but we don’t really know.  Supposedly there is no such thing really (scientifically speaking) as Universal Energy according to this article- Reiki Can Not do Harm – or can it? by Christopher Moyer, a well known massage researcher and Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Wisconsin-Stout

“universal energy” on which it is based cannot possibly exist, for if it did, it would have to do so in contradiction of the conservation of mass-energy principle, and that is as well supported by scientific evidence as practically any principle that we know


The problem with researching massage is how do we combine science with the art of massage and preserve the art of massage – of being present, of connecting, of being compassionate care givers, with science?  We (I) just want to do massage!