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Massage Today
February, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 02

The Body Viewed in 3-D

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

Since seriously considering massage therapy as a career choice, I have had a healthy appreciation for anatomy. My bachelor's degree in business economics had few science prerequisites, and basic college biology was as close as I came to discovering how we work in structure and function until I explored massage schools in 1992.

I was amazed at how much I didn't know! Even the Anatomy Coloring Book was a wealth of information to me. I found the memorization of bones, muscles, nerves, etc., to be arduous at best, but the obvious potential for actual application of the knowledge kept me striving to succeed. It wasn't until after I was developing a practice that I came to know the true importance of learning more and more about exactly how the body presents itself.

The study of human anatomy is a standard part of all massage school curriculums. Along with a basic understanding of physiology, it is well-accepted that a solid understanding of these sciences contributes to a massage therapist's skill level and ability to demonstrate professionalism. It's this understanding of the structure and function of the human body, along with the skilled application of touch, which has so greatly enhanced the status of our profession in recent decades. I discovered that the Anatomy Coloring Book was the "Cliff's Notes version" of anatomical documentation, and that there was a whole new world of richness in anatomy texts by the likes of Netter and Clemente. I found that intuitive work on bodies was enhanced greatly if I knew what was really in that body I was touching. The smarter I got, the more intuitive I became! I'm sure that many, if not most of you, have come to realize the same.

Obviously better than books is the study of actual human tissue. It's for this reason that cadaver study is becoming increasingly popular in massage school curriculums. It's also becoming more of an option for those seeking continuing education. Most cadaver labs are operated by universities or medical centers that utilize the cadavers for their students first, before allowing visiting students to see the already-dissected human form. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to get lots of cadaver lab time, and it never ceases to amaze me how those who have already passed on can make anatomy come to life!

I realize though, that many do not have access to a cadaver lab and the learning opportunities they present. I was pleasantly surprised to find an alternative that falls between the two-dimensional planes of a textbook and the three-dimensional hands-on medical school cadaver lab. Anatomical exhibits of actual bodies are touring throughout the world. Preserved in a special way that enables the tissue to maintain its color and appearance for "eternity," the bodies and body parts are arranged in poses and displays to allow for study. Explanatory material is part of the exhibit so the accumulation of knowledge is easy to grasp. In many ways, the visual depiction of nerve paths or the relationship of agonist and antagonist muscles was superior to the cadaver lab! I currently am aware of several touring anatomical exhibits in North America, and I think it a good use of professional time for massage therapists to visit them if a cadaver anatomy class is not easy for you to take.

A Bodyworlds display of a crouching man. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Bodyworlds 2 in Boston. "Bodyworlds," "Bodyworlds 2," and "Bodyworlds 3" are being exhibited in Dallas, Chicago, Montréal, and Phoenix. (I recently saw "Bodyworlds 2" in Boston.) A competing exhibit called "Bodies ... The Exhibition" is on display in South Miami, Las Vegas and New York. Other than the fact that you can't touch or photograph the exhibits, the learning opportunities are almost endless. (Caution for sensitive viewers: Eyes and genitals remain, and a section of the exhibition highlights prenatal development and includes embryos and fetuses.)

These exhibits certainly are not without controversy. Many question whether these shows are art, exploitation or science. They ask if they speak to our innate fascination with the human body, a voyeuristic desire for a cheap thrill or our fear of death. From my own visits, I can surmise that all of the above are true to some extent, but that most truly are seeking a deeper look at the human body. For more information on these exhibits, visit and

If you are able, however, I think there is nothing better than being able to get "hands-on" instruction on cadaverous tissue in a laboratory setting. Massage schools are more frequently establishing partnering roles with medical schools for this purpose. There are continuing education providers who are leaders in training others on actual dissection techniques. Gil Hedley, Dianne Polseno and David Kent are pioneers in this respect. The Upledger Institute has a first-rate program of dissection with an emphasis on CranioSacral Therapy concepts or Visceral Manipulation, and all the actual dissection is on fresh-tissue cadavers instead of embalmed tissue. That's better than most medical students can accomplish!

A Bodyworlds display of a female's throat. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Bodyworlds 2 in Boston The keys to truly knowing and healing the human body lie within the body itself. Throughout history, anatomy has provided thousands of these keys. The study of anatomy and the practice of human dissection have proved invaluable in understanding the human body, its systems and their functions, and to treating, curing, and preventing disease. Without dissection, modern medical science would remain in the Dark Ages: We would have no idea how to remove an appendix or replace the valves of a heart, or the best way to perform a kidney transplant or operate on the brain. Without dissection, we would have a hard time setting a bone so it could properly heal. Almost all medical discoveries and advances made in the past 25 years owe a debt to anatomical study and human dissection; the same will be true of those in the future. It's my gut feeling that almost all advances in the practice of massage therapy - from the simplest ways of facilitating relaxation to the most complex ways of treating dysfunction - also will come from anatomical study and human dissection. I hope to see you in the lab!

Thanks for listening!

Massage Today encourages letters to the editor to discuss matters related to the publication's content. Letters may be published in a future issue or online. Please send all correspondence by e-mail to , or by regular mail to:

Massage Today
P.O. Box 4109
Huntington Beach, CA 92605

Former editor of Massage Today, Cliff is owner of Windham Health Center Neuromuscular Therapy LLC. He is nationally certified in therapeutic massage & bodywork and is licensed as a massage therapist by the states of New Hampshire and Florida. Cliff is a member of the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners; a professional member and past president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association; a certified member of the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Inc.; and a past chairman of the board of directors of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.


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