To the Massage Researchers

One of the problems I see from attending the research conference and thinking about research is that there seems to be more than just a vocabulary problem in understanding research and using it to create evidence based practices and to use research to get and keep clients.

Whitney Lowe touched on it in his closing keynote address. The big thing is motivation – what is in it for me (the intuitive, caring, empathetic, massage therapist?) What is in it for my clients?  How will it make their lives better or make me a better massage therapist?   After attending the conference and seeing many great research studies (half of which I don’t know what they were talking about) I am not going to be changing anything in the way I do massage or talk to people about massage in my efforts to get and keep clients.  Whitney also talked about his passion for taking research and trying to implement it into his practice. It did make me want to learn more about that as his passion is really contagious!

To me I don’t have any interest in doing that.  I have been doing massage full time for 23 years and like what I am doing and it seems to work fine for most people.

The biggest question that I have for researchers is SO WHAT?  Why do I need proof that massage works for back pain or reduces anxiety?  I already know that and see the evidence in my practice everyday.   I also use this question when working with massage therapists who are trying to explain what it is that they do -the so called benefits of massage.  Clients don’t care about the benefits of massage which are usually nicely listed on their websites – reduces inflammation, increases circulation. (Tracy Walton also once said that the benefits of massage are not really scientifically proven to be valid!  You also can’t say that things are proven because one or two or even 20 studies doesn’t make it so!)

The whole time during the conference I kept thinking of a really good book I am reading for the second time “Made to Stick” by Dan Heath.  He talks about something he calls the Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
– you forget that you used to know nothing about something and all the knowledge that you have gained makes you sound so smart but it doesn’t help you connect with others and ‘make your idea stick’.  Once you know something it is hard to imagine what it was like before you didn’t know.  Sharing knowledge is difficult and nearly impossible when you are not able to put yourself in the listeners shoes!  Of course you can’t unlearn what you now know but I can’t help but think that you could reach more massage therapists and the general public when you keep that concept in mind.

I know there is also a lot of talk and efforts going into teaching research methods to massage therapists and how is that going to happen.  There are more and more classes being taught on that and massage schools are trying to figure out how to put it into their curriculum.  But I still say So What?  Will taking 50 hours of research methods help people get and keep clients?  They won’t be able to take the classes in a CE format unless they are making enough money to do so.  Yes I am making this all about money but it seems to be the challenge of many massage therapists – just trying to get by and make a living.

So my challenge to the many massage researchers, people talking about research is to start at the beginning and start telling and showing people why research is important.  How will having research help the average intuitive, empathetic, caring massage therapist be more successful?  Or I guess maybe it isn’t the researchers job to make their work more applicable but maybe more of the profession – the  Massage Therapy Foundation and other massage research groups and other people who are not researchers but just love research. ( I met a bunch at the conference!)

Ok and the other thing is where are all the researchers blogs or websites?  I couldn’t find any anywhere which is another interesting thing.  That seems to me like they are just doing the research for themselves and not even wanting to connect with the people who they are doing the research for.  So if there are websites out there let me know.  I do know of a few sites being done my people who are massage therapists and are interested in research- and a Bodhi Haraldssons Blog on Evidence Based Practice and this massage research blog who I can’t quite figure out who is the author.

The best site to find research related to massage is at the Massage Therapy Foundation’s website but it doesn’t help break it all down into usable information.

My favorite study in massage is the Meta Analysis of Massage Research by C.A. Moyer (who I got to meet and didn’t even really get that it was his research until now when I started writing this post!) It came out in 2004 but at the time there were a lot of people talking about it and there was also a good article about it in Massage and Bodywork Magazine that helped me understand what it really meant for the profession.  You can read the whole study on

So maybe this isn’t so much to the massage reseearchers because they are busy doing massage research – but to the massage profession:  Can you please make massage research more understandable?

Can you start with why is research important to the massage profession?  I am sort of getting an idea why but am still very mixed about the whole thing. I’ll probably write another post on that later today or this week.  But now off to the spa and the far infrared saunas which there is some research on that looks promising (or so they say – I couldn’t find anything with a 2 minute search! ha!)  But I still love it and will go!

4 thoughts on “To the Massage Researchers”

  1. Great post with lots of food for thought.

    If you look at medical research, some of the work is to demonstrate that a new procedure works. Once you have demonstrated that a procedure works, now the research becomes about optimizing the procedure to get the greatest benefit to the patient with the minimum adverse effects. So for massage research, we know that massage works for back pain. For you, wouldn’t it be nice to know what will work the fastest with the long-term results with the minimum amount of discomfort to the client? Sometimes, it’s not a question of which modalities to use but in what order to use them. that is the benefit of research for us and for our clients.

    As to where the research is being disseminated – it’s mostly peer reviewed journals which are very expensive and very few massage therapists subscribe to. There are also papers published in Internal Medicine, Orthopedic, and a couple of the surgery journals which none of us will subscribe to because it wouldn’t be cost effective. You can get abstracts of the articles at PubMed but then you need to pay for each journal article separately.

    Then we get to your point of understanding the research. A 500 hour massage program does not include education on the difference between median and mean, so most of the statistics in the articles are going to be meaningless to anyone without the math education. As a massage educator, I also don’t see how research methods can be included in a 500 hour course. There is very little time in that schedule for adequate business classes, let alone research methods.

    I love to read research articles. I would love to do some research, but this far from a University makes it difficult. Very few massage therapists see the value of research because *no one has ever explained what’s in it for them or their clients.* Whether or not it’s crass to think of money, this is a business and you are right to want to ask the question “So what?” The industry must be able to answer that to our satisfaction or they can expect research funding to dry up. I see the value, but I come from an engineering background and have that as part of my past experience. So now you’ve laid out a challenge to explain “So what?” and I’m going to head off to the woodshed and try to come up with an answer. Hopefully, I’m not the only one out there trying to come up with a good answer.

  2. It was nice to meet you in Seattle, Julie.

    Also, it’s very nice to hear that my 2004 study is appreciated.

    I think you make some good points in this post. Specifically, you may be right that, in some cases, it is not necessary for any specific therapist to understand the MT research. On the other hand, I suspect that MT research will be important in advancing the profession as a whole.

    I also like that you noted “Once you know something it is hard to imagine what it was like before you didn’t know.” Research may be informing you and others in this way. You have little to no doubt that MT reduces anxiety, for example, because in addition to seeing it in your practice you have read that this is validated by research. Over time, it is easy to feel like we have always known this, but the truth is that we haven’t always known it. It just feels because we all know that the research and the clinical evidence are consistent on this effect, which makes it easy for us to know it and feel as if we have always known it.

  3. Yes! Thanks for pointing out my own curse of knowledge! I of course hadn’t really thought of it like that too! I think I am so lucky to be in the PNW where we are so “CAMY” minded


  4. This is a really interesting discussion, Julie. I personally think research in massage therapy is very important, and certainly the usefulness depends on the kind of research that’s done. At my practice, we do different kinds of massage and I focus on bodywork, specifically rolfing. I like knowing what others have found in MT and being up-to-date on the latest studies. Yet, I certainly see your point about how some research on things like proving massage therapy reduces anxiety and pain aren’t entirely necessary. Seeing is believing too. I find it’s most important to my clients for me to educate them as needed. Thanks for sharing the research you do find useful! – Nick Pavoldi, Bodywork Professionals

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