resourcesABOUT MT AUTHOR GUIDELINES CLASSIFIEDS EDITORIAL CALENDAR MEDIA GUIDE MASSAGE MART SCHOOLS & EDUCATION FEEDBACK
An Emerging Partnership Model
Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) has educated integrative health and wellness practitioners for the last 40 years, originally as an acupuncture clinic and school. The institution's transformative, relationship-centered programs integrate traditional wisdom with contemporary science
Sit or Stand? Analyzing a Mixed Message
I'm more than a bit confused. At my age, that seems to be a rather common occurrence. However, today more than ever, I'm getting a mixed message.
Introducing the Acupuncture Today Digital Edition
In response to the changing habits of our readers, Acupuncture Today will introduce a digital edition of the publication (in addition to our print edition) beginning with the August 2016 issue.
Chronic Pain: Become Part of the Solution
I have lectured to more than 7,000 chiropractic physicians over the past five years regarding the chronic pain and opioid epidemic in this country.
Treating Hip & Groin Pain With Abdominal Release of Upper Lumbar Nerve Impingements
Have you encountered patients with groin and hip pain you can't seem to solve? You know it's not a worn-out hip; you suspect the pain is somehow connected to the spine. But somehow, you just can't help them break through.
Kansas Achieves Licensing Law
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed House Bill 2615 into law on Friday, May 13, 2016. HB2615 includes provisions for the licensure of acupuncturists in the state of Kansas.
Increasing the Value of Spine Care: CMS Approves New Low Back Pain Registry
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has approved the Spine IQ Low Back Pain Registry as a qualified clinical data registry for the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) in 2016.
Beating the Odds: Interview With Para-Powerlifter Adeline Dumapong-Ancheta
Since October 2015, the FICS Foundation, the charitable organization affiliated with the International Federation of Sports Chiropractic (FICS), has been supporting disabled athletes internationally.
Believe it or not, an estimated one-third of your patients have eaten some form of fast food within 24 hours of their appointment with you.
Tai Chi Documentary Premier
First Run Features recently announced the world theatrical premiere of Barry Strugatz's documentary The Professor: Tai Chi's Journey West, which premiered last month at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles.
Multivitamin Supplement May Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence
There is a great deal of controversy regarding the value of multiple vitamin supplements in cancer prevention.
A Long-Overdue Win for Oregon Medicaid Patients - and the Implications for Other States
Beginning July 1, 2016, Oregon Medicaid patients with spinal pain (cervical, thoracic, lumbar, pelvic) who are determined to be low risk based on a biopsychosocial assessment tool (STarT Back – Keele University) can receive four chiropractic visits per episode.
The Pertinent Negative
We all have to perform evaluations on patients. Most of us don't like doing it – exams take time, and worse it takes even more time after the evaluation to put together a narrative summary of the findings. Sometimes, this process becomes downright tedious.
Insuring Quality Control in Herb Importation: An Interview with Wilson Lau
Wilson Lau is the vice president of Nuherbs, a Chinese herb importation company based in San Leandro, California. Before joining Nuherbs, he trained as a lawyer specializing in FDA law.
Acupuncture Muscle Trigger Point and Oriental Medicine Sports Therapy
It is difficult to ascertain the internal condition of professional basketball player Lebron James during game one of the 2014 NBA finals, in which he developed debilitating muscle cramps that led to his premature removal from the game.
What's New in Phytonutrition: Mangifera Indica, "The King of Fruits"
One hundred percent pure Indian green mango fruit (mangifera indica), harvested at a special degree of ripeness for efficacy and taste, can now be concentrated as a phytonutrient nutraceutical powder.
Adventures with the San Jiao
Those of us who have been in practice for several decades relish the way meridians and points reveal new diagnostic clues and new insights. I love to encourage my students to see this as an adventure that goes way beyond the textbooks.
How to Stay Sane During the Elections: Understanding Through the Lens of Chinese Medicine
In Chinese Medicine philosophy, everything consists of Yin and Yang. The law of polar opposites – one cannot exist without its opposite.
AOM Hospital-Based Practice: A Future Reality?
The natural evolution of health care on the planet is integrative health. We may have some challenges ahead, but based on my research, all indicators are pointing in a positive direction. There seems to be an evolving consciousness among our patient population that is "getting it."
Acupuncture's Impact on the World
For several years, I have been hearing about the town of Rothenburg, Germany. It seemed just a dot on a map until I arrived. It is the home of the TCM Kongress which began in 1968. It has been held annually for 47 years and it has only missed one year.
Three Tips to Help You Analyze the Acupuncture Case Studies of the NCCAOM Exam
Confirm the answer quickly by the elimination method. Case study:
After two treatments for back pain, a patient presents for a third
session complaining of rapid breathing and wheezing that is made worse
during cold weather.
An MD Who Understands the Opioid Epidemic
Doctors of chiropractic have an important role to play in ending the opioid epidemic and dealing with chronic pain by conservative means (see our top story in this issue) – but who's to blame for opioid dependence and abuse in the first place?
March, 2016, Vol. 16, Issue 03
Telling the Truth About Massage Therapy
By Tracy Walton, LMT, MS
Google "benefits of massage therapy," and you'll bring up 3.5 million web pages. Spend an afternoon checking out a bunch of them, and you'll find a few dozen benefits of massage therapy, along with a hundred or so conditions that massage is expected to help.
Among the many beneficial effects of massage, you might pick out a few focused on common cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment. In particular, you'll see references to the "Big Five" in cancer care: pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. These are compelling problems, familiar to oncology massage therapists and clients alike. Research has found growing support for effects on these symptoms and the strongest support is for easing pain and improving mood in people with cancer.
These claims are simple and fairly well documented. If we stopped there, with that last humble sentence about "growing support," we'd be on solid ground. But in the massage profession, we haven't stopped there, and some of our other claims are not so humble, and not solid at all. Go to some web sites, and you'll see long laundry lists of massage benefits. These don't apply to a specific population or problem. Instead, they are more generic. As we will see below, many of these generic claims are downright problematic.
All of us in massage therapy, not just those working with people with cancer, could do with a closer look at the generic list. I've whittled that list down to a short list of a few supposed massage benefits: claims of massage improving circulation, immunity, and endorphin levels. The likelihood of massage clearing out toxins or lowering cortisol levels.
You might have heard some of these claims repeated for years, starting with your first class in Swedish massage. They are mainstays in the massage therapy profession. Unfortunately, there are at least two problems with this short list.
Clients Don't Ask for These Benefits: Many of our claims about massage are focused on physiological effects, rather than clinical improvements. How many of your clients ask for an increase in circulation or endorphins? How many ask for detoxification or a smaller supply of cortisol coursing through their bloodstream? My guess is that, aside from an occasional request, most clients aren't focusing on these benefits. Our lists of benefits sound good, but they don't really address the primary reasons people come to us. People come to us in order to feel better.
Look back at the big five in cancer care vs. the generic lists of benefits and you'll find an important distinction: The Big Five focus on feeling better, improvements in pain, anxiety, and so on. In contrast, massage claims about endorphins and cortisol focus on complicated physiological explanations of how we might feel better. The former are clinical outcomes of massage therapy, the latter are mechanistic outcomes. Clinical outcomes are direct and relevant to the client. Mechanistic outcomes may not matter to a client at all. Many people take medications without questioning the way they work. In fact, many medications bring about positive clinical outcomes, while their mechanisms of action remain a mystery to consumers and medical providers alike.
This means that when our oncology clients (or really, any of our clients, regardless of health history) look for information about feeling better from massage, they are often met with a distracting list of mechanisms, focused mostly on cells or molecules in the blood going up, going down, or moving more swiftly through the body. These mechanistic claims might sound appealing, but they aren't usually related to the client's problem. And they come with other problems, too.
Our Claims Are Not Accurate: Many of the claims we've been making with such certainty are not at all certain. In most cases, we have no decent research to back what we are saying. For example, the claim about massage upping endorphins can be traced to only two tiny, primitive studies. Only one of those studies, fraught with design issues, reports an endorphin boost. Yet a Google search for "massage" and "endorphin" brings up tens of thousands of websites claiming massage will raise your endorphin levels.
Likewise, claims about improved circulation and immunity — mainstays of massage literature — have only a handful of studies behind them, with conflicting results. A body of research on cortisol has been analyzed and reported that massage does not lower cortisol. And there is no good evidence that I know of, anywhere in the English language, on the massage and toxin question at all.
The weakness in our claims about massage raises serious ethical issues for our profession. Health care providers have a recognized duty to tell the truth about their treatments. Even outside of health care, truth in advertising is a responsibility of anyone promoting a service or product.
When we offer massage therapy, people with cancer, health care providers and the public assume we are telling the truth about our services. In cancer care, patients may be especially vulnerable to false claims and oversold promises. They need to hear reasonable expectations about what massage will do for them. That's why the humble statement above, about "growing research support," for massage and cancer symptom relief is so important.
In particular, at least five of the generic claims we make about massage — effects on endorphins, circulation, immunity, cortisol, and detoxification — should be phased out of our literature, our websites, and our massage classrooms. Any time we tell someone, "massage does this," or "massage will help you with that," without good backing, we are making a false claim. Even with a few million websites repeating the same thing, we have a professional responsibility to question what we are told and what we tell our clients.
Telling the Truth, Discarding the Myths
To help MTs in this regard, the Massage Therapy Foundation has just released a free e-book, 5 Myths and Truths about Massage Therapy: Letting Go without Losing Heart (http://info.massagetherapyfoundation.org/5-myths-and-truths-about-massage-therapy).
In partnership with the Foundation, I wrote the e-book to help straighten out our stories about massage. I offer up a research summary of each claim about endorphins, immunity, cortisol, circulation, and detoxification. I also reference many of the small research studies behind each claim, such as the two tiny studies about endorphins, mentioned above. The results may be surprising, but will help all of us make fair, accurate, more defensible claims about our work.
Reporting the true benefits of massage therapy is just as important as discarding untrue claims. The Foundation offers free e-books on massage and pain research, pediatric massage, connecting with researchers, and even an e-book on connecting with physicians. These and other resources are referenced on the Foundation website www.massagetherapyfoundation.org/resources/general/. The e-books are just a sample of the many resources available at the Massage Therapy Foundation, which has funded research, education, and community service projects for 25 years.
In addition to the free e-book through the Foundation, I have listed 20+ highest-level massage research papers in a recent blog post, "One Massage Study Does Not Prove a Point, www.tracywalton.com/one-massage-study-does-not-prove-a-point/. Three of the papers listed are on massage and cancer. In that post, I also explain why a research review typically provides more useful and accurate information than the single massage studies we are told to promote.
All of our client populations deserve clear, accurate information about the benefits of massage therapy. Massage therapy is a wonderful intervention that is becoming more and more welcome in health care circles, and especially in cancer care. When we keep our claims true, humble and thoughtful, we strengthen the foundation of massage therapy for years to come.
Click here for more information about Tracy Walton, LMT, MS.
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