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Massage Today
February, 2016, Vol. 16, Issue 02

Evaluating the Use of Gas Discharge Visualization to Measure Massage Therapy Outcomes

By Massage Therapy Foundation Contributor

Contributed by Renee Stenbjorn MPA, LMT; April Neufeld LMT; Jolie Haun PhD, EdS, LMT

Massage therapy outcomes research is commonly conducted on individual systems of the body, such as the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.

However, therapists often observe and report an observable effect of massage that impacts the whole person, represented by a general sense of relaxation or rejuvenation that recipients present after a massage. Research in a recent publication of the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, published by one of our contributing reviewers, Jolie Haun and her colleagues, examined a potential method of evaluating massage therapy outcomes to capture these whole person outcomes using an innovative measure.

The physiological benefits of massage are well documented and, at this time, widely accepted by the public as well as the medical community. Some benefits of massage can be easily measured, such as effects on immune function and sleep patterns. These findings can be measured physiologically or with biomarkers such as immune cell counts, serotonin levels and electrocardiograms. The validity of these findings is considered valid as the measures have been reproduced across studies.

 - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Subjective self-reporting measures are used to demonstrate outcomes such as decreases in stress and anxiety. While many massage studies rely on self-reporting questionnaires for these outcomes, some researchers in the field are seeking a more objectively measurable tool for evaluating changes in subjects receiving massage. This research study had several objectives: evaluating a specific tool to assess the energetic changes a client undergoes during a massage session; evaluating the physical, psychological and emotional effects of massage using standard self-reporting methods; and determining the correlation of gas discharge visualization (GDV) parameters with traditional self-reporting outcome measures. The researchers use the term "bioenergetics effects" to describe this change many experience as a result of the massage.

The researchers describe GDV measurement as a means of "electrophoton capture" (EPC) suggesting, "The GDV uses modern optics, electronics and computer processing for analyzing photon emissions stimulated by a pulsed electromagnetic field." The authors theorize that the energy emitted from a person can indicate the individual's bioenergetic field. Thus, it should be able to be measured and quantified. The theory is that the energy photons represent the dynamic bioenergy of the person and the image represents their energy field. The image is capturing the displacement of gas particles emitting from the subject, either from fingertips or a full body projection. It is theorized that the emissions represent the level and balance of energy flow in the meridians, but it is important to note that the authors state, "GDV measures are not very well defined regarding their meaning." Although this device is widely known to measure these discharge levels, the mechanism remains unclear.

The research question explored by these authors is whether or not the GDV imaging pre- and post-massage correlates with self-reported changes of the client's physical, emotional and energetic experience as a result of the massage to examine the feasibility of using such an innovative measure to evaluate whole person outcomes associated with massage. There were 23 research subjects and inclusion criteria focused on healthy subjects who had received massage in the past. Four massage therapists provided massage to participants, each with at least five years of professional experience and each therapist was trained in the Swedish protocol used in this study.

The GDV measurements were used as a dependent variable, i.e., did the measurements change in response to the massage the subjects received. The GDV measurements were taken from the fingertips of the subjects. Therefore, the massage did not include the hand to avoid the measurements being effected by application of lotion used in the treatment. GDV electrophotography was used to assess the bioenergetics whole person effects of massage therapy. The authors explain the 16 parameter measurements of the full-body assessment used in the study. Briefly, there are 16 areas of the body emitting photons and these are captured by the device then analyzed for strength and symmetry of signals.

Each subject was given one 50-minute full-body Swedish massage according to the protocol. The questionnaires and GDV measurements were taken before and after the massage. The subjects were asked to self-report items on Visual Analog Scales, including pain, muscle tension and stress at several time points, two before the massage and two after the massage. The data shows a statistically significant change in self-reported levels of pain, stress and muscle tensions and some quantitative changes in the bioenergetics field.

It is important to remember that the study was designed to assess the correlation between changes in the GDV measurements and the self-reported outcomes. It is widely accepted that massage changes self-reported levels of stress, pain and muscle tensions. As seen in many other studies, this is true in this study. This study aimed to see if an objective bio-marker measure correlated with the self-reported changes. Findings indicated the GDV bio-marker measures were significantly correlated with the self-reported change in measures.

The study examined 16 GDV measurements on each subject, looking at projections of energy from the right side of the body, left side of the body, etc. They also measured the symmetry of the projects between the right and left side of the body. Of these 16 measurements, the most significant finding was an increase in symmetry on the front of the body – theoretically representing a whole person measure of energetic symmetry. Some subjects showed an increase in energy on one side of the body, contributing to a more balanced field. Other subjects showed a decrease in energy on one side, also achieving more balance in the field. They suggest the increase in balance of the field demonstrates that some people need to relax during a massage while others need to experience rejuvenation. The authors state that this change in symmetry shows a positive finding for the potential use of GDV in future massage studies. The frontal symmetry measurement is one of 16 GDV measurements that were not significantly correlated. The measurements on this one field variable were mixed between increasing and decreasing energy projections.

The authors state the pilot study findings warrant further study of the use of GDV to measure massage outcomes and report common limitations with massage therapy studies, recommending future studies with larger randomized controlled trials to further explore the potential use of the GDV. If we can identify a valid method for evaluating the energetic changes people feel with massage, we can advance the science of massage research.

This research, though a small pilot study, has implications for research and practice. The validation of non-traditional biomarkers to evaluate the whole person effects of massage is not only needed, but can advance the science of massage therapy outcomes research. Although these findings warrant further investigation, much larger randomized controlled trials will be necessary to determine the role of GDV in measuring massage outcomes. This research also speaks to the observations that massage recipients often experience: individualized effects of massage that may result in relaxation or rejuvenation, depending on the person's need; and changes that impact not just individual bodily systems but the whole person.

If you are interested in learning more about the topic of research in massage, consider attending the International Massage Therapy Research Conference. It will be held in Seattle May 12-15, 2016. For more information, visit

Case reports also play an important part in advancing the skills of massage therapy practitioners. The Massage Therapy Foundation Practitioner Case Report Contest is now open. The deadline to submit is October 3, 2016. For more information, visit

Click here for more information about Massage Therapy Foundation Contributor.


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