We read it in USA Today, the New York Times, and magazine clippings that our clients bring us: Evidence now shows that massage therapy is associated with health benefits. And if you are like me, you wonder why evidence suddenly makes more real the power of massage that we have experienced all along. So other than good marketing value, what else is the growing evidence doing to our practice, and perhaps our craft?
As a veteran massage therapist, I have been teaching and taking massage courses for over 20 years. Over the past decade, spurred by the movement to establish science to support my art, I completed my PhD by investigating massage therapy and those who practice it. Some of what I learned surprised me, and motivated me to conduct exploratory research on how massage therapists execute a session. My research continues, as does my teaching of research literacy to practitioners.
From what I learned, the massage therapy field continues in a period of transition, “professionalizing” and many say, “medicalizing. “ According to multiple signs, massage is increasingly considered a health care intervention, identified as health care by 96% of consumers surveyed. Nationally, 96% of surveyed MTs claim they get referrals from health care professionals. Understandably, medical professionals want interventions to be backed up by concrete science. Accordingly, research supporting the efficacy of massage therapy has erupted over the past two decades, flooding websites and publications, and reshaping expectations of health care providers, regulators, and consumers.
Yet medical settings are not the most common places to get massage. According to multiple sources, most MTs self-identify as sole practitioners. The majority work independently in multiple settings, and most claim that massage is part-time work for them, often supplemented by their work in other fields.
So how is even the most diligent massage therapist supposed to keep up with the latest research? More importantly, it is really necessary?
Some industry experts claim that keeping up with scientific evidence is now an ethical responsibility. But as massage therapy elevates in legitimacy and visibility, do practitioners need to keep up with every study that comes out? Even for those who like to read science, how does one know if a study is trustworthy. What is more, just because a study is reliable does not mean it is clinically significant. The practical issue is whether the evidence — usually meaning more than one study — is strong enough to suggest a change in the way a massage therapist practices.
To address these questions, and more, I developed a research literacy workshop specifically for massage therapists. It is certified by NCBTMB for CEUs, including a two-hour session for ethics credit. I look forward to offering it at the Ohio State Conference in April 2014. I welcome this opportunity to share my knowledge about research as it relates to our work. In the interests of our craft and our livelihoods, we each need to be conversant with the research that is already reshaping the way we practice.
 American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). (2012). 2012 Massage Therapy Industry Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/uploads/cms/documents/amta2012_industryfactsheet.pdf