Why do we need Massage Therapy Research?

Why do we need massage therapy research especially since we as massage therapists already see so much of the proof on a daily basis in the practice of massage?

Research is an important part of the next steps for the massage profession.  The biggest reason is that it can help the massage profession and your massage business gain the respect that is needed by the general public and also the medical profession. 

It will also help get massage covered by insurance.  One of the things that Debra Senn (a past insurance commissioner in WA State who made it possible for WA State MT to become contracted providers with insurance) said one of the most interesting things about the process.  She said when insurance companies first heard they were going to have to pay for massage, they complained thinking that it would cost them more money.  They thought they would have to pay $10,000 for the carpal tunnel surgery (or whatever type of surgery and that amount is just for example- how much does a carpal tunnel surgery really cost?)  and then pay a few extra thousand to cover the massage.  They did not understand that massage could eliminate the need for massage.  I still don’t think they really get it as what I see in the way of referrals from most doctors is generally for back and neck pain.  The doctors don’t really understand how massage can be used for various things like musculo-skeletal injuries such as plantar fasciaitis, tennis elbow, sprained ankles, and things like that.  Doctors will relate more to evidence and research that shows how massage can help.  They will also start getting it when more people provide start using massage for just those kind of issues and start giving feedback to the doctors.

What can Massage Therapy Do?

One of the other things about research is that it is important to have research that shows what massage does.  Many of the things that are currently being taught in massage school are inaccurate and have just been handed down through classes because that is what they are taught.  There are still many schools saying that massage should not be used on people with cancer which was debunked many years ago. (See massage and cancer)   The other big myth is that of toxins being removed from the body through massage and also the myth that massage removes lactic acid.   Right now there are many massage therapists that continue to say those things and don’t have the latest research that shows otherwise and having so much misinformation makes massage confusing to the general public.

But having more research is not really enough since most massage therapists are not research literate – that is the don’t understand how to evaluate a research study.  Just because a study was done and shows positive outcomes does not mean that it shows anything unless you can understand it.  Research literacy is needed and it begins with having to read and learn about things that most have no interest in.  Most massage therapists are just happy to be doing massage or are struggling to get clients or find a high paying job.  Who has time for research or learning any more when of course we already know that massage works?

Research Literacy is the ability to read, understand, and apply information from published research.

In your massage practice, you will be able to look up research to help you address the needs of your clients when they come in with more difficult diseases and conditions and when you want to know if massage can help them.  When clients ask you how massage works, you will be able to give a knowledgeable answer.  When clients understand more how their bodies work, they have the power to take care of it better.  They also may pass this information on to their doctors- and so it goes.

Science Literacy

Before you really can understand Research Literacy, you really need to understand Science Literacy. You have to understand the basics of how information is collected, looked at and shared. You will need to understand things like what is pseudoscience, metaphysics and rhetoric and why we fall for rhetoric. Read my series on Science Literacy.

The Challenges of Massage Therapy Research

Here is the thing though. People seem to read a study and come up with different opinions on what it says and share their opinons. Wouldn’t it be great if there was just one resource finding, reading, interpreting and sharing the information so we were all on the same page? Personally I have taken many classes on massage research literacy, read books on massage research and still don’t really want to read research and don’t care really. My business has been successful without it.

The one concern I do have is that health insurance companies have hired independent companies to provide prior authorizations for massage and determines the number of sessions on the research they have. EviCore is one such company and they have set practice guidelines for massage therapy. They are creating the Practice Guidelines for the massage profession because no on within the profession is doing that. (Premera Blue Cross Practice Guidelines on EviCore website.)

Research Literacy Classes

Basics of Research Literacy – Massage Therapy Foundation

Research Literacy Classes in various topics from AMTA

Classes on Massage Research at ABMP.