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Massage Today
November, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 11

Massage Underrepresented in U.S. Medical School CAM Curriculum

By Editorial Staff

By all accounts, we are in the midst of the "Golden Age" of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Public use, multidisciplinary acceptance, and insurance reimbursement of CAM services are at an all-time high.

A recent issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) was devoted entirely to research on CAM utilization.1 Almost all of the articles in that issue included massage therapy as a research parameter,2-7 and one article evaluated massage specifically.8

Despite this ongoing trend toward increased awareness and acceptance of the benefits of massage, both in the public and professional sectors, there is still progress to be made, particularly in some circles. For evidence, look no further than the September 2002 issue of Academic Medicine, which featured a study entitled, "The Teaching of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in U.S. Medical Schools: A Survey of Course Directors."9

In the study, the authors evaluated data drawn from questionnaires mailed to 123 CAM directors at 74 U.S. medical schools in August 2000. Questionnaires were collected through January 2001, with final data based on responses from 73 course directors at 53 institutions. Results showed that, among the 19 therapies listed* by course directors, massage therapy was ninth in terms of the percentage of course directors who reported teaching the topic at their medical school (41.1%).

Table on CAM curriculum at U.S. medical schools. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Ninth out of 19 therapies may not sound unreasonable; however, a closer scrutiny of the data revealed that not only did acupuncture and chiropractic ranked well ahead of massage therapy, so did nutrition and diet; herbs and botanicals; homeopathy; and more "eclectic" therapies such as meditation and relaxation; spirituality/faith/prayer; and "ethnomedicine" (Ayurveda, non-acupuncture Chinese medicine; Native-American medicine). In fact, the data showed that only a few more medical schools include massage therapy curriculum in their CAM programs than hypnosis.

* Other CAM topics listed by course directors (11th-19th in terms of percentage) included therapeutic touch; guided imagery; nutriceuticals/megavitamins/minerals; naturopathy; biofeedback; aromatherapy; energy medicine; music therapy; and reflexology.]

It is encouraging to note that so many U.S. medical schools have CAM programs, and that many of these programs reflect a diversity of CAM services. However, considering the numerous proven benefits of massage, it is somewhat disheartening to see massage comparatively underrepresented in current medical school curriculum. One wonders what criteria were used by course directors in selecting one type of CAM therapy over another for inclusion in their program content.

The study authors note in their conclusion: "We believe that CAM instruction in U.S. medical schools will continue to grow as more faculty and students come to share the same fascination with unconventional therapies as the society at large." One hopes this continued growth includes increased massage representation in medical school curriculum.


  1. American Journal of Public Health, October 2002:92(10).
  2. Rafferty AP, et al. Prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use: state-specific estimates from the 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. AJPH, Oct. 2002:92(10), pp1598-1600.
  3. Russinova Z, et al. Use of alternative health care practices by persons with serious mental illness: perceived benefits. AJPH, Oct. 2002:92(10), pp1600-03.
  4. Lee MM, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use among men with prostate cancer in four ethnic populations. AJPH, Oct. 2002:92(10), pp1606-09.
  5. Burge SK, et al. Use of complementary and alternative medicine among family practice patients in South Texas. AJPH, Oct. 2002:92(10), pp1614-16.
  6. McFarland B, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use in Canada and the United States. AJPH, Oct. 2002:92(10), pp1616-18.
  7. Yeh GY, et al. Use of complementary and alternative medicine among persons with diabetes mellitus: results of a national survey. AJPH, Oct. 2002:92(10), pp1648-52.
  8. Quinn C, et al. Massage therapy and frequency of chronic tension headaches. AJPH, Oct. 2002:92(10), pp1657-61.
  9. Brokaw JJ, et al. The teaching of complementary and alternative medicine in U.S. medical schools: a survey of course directors. Academic Medicine, Sept. 2002:77(9), pp876-881.

Editor's note: Beginning with the January 2003 issue, Massage Today will publish a periodic "Research Corner" with summaries of the most recent research related to massage. Several of the papers referenced above will be presented in MT as part of this new feature.


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