looking for credible research in the massage therapy profession
looking for credible research in the massage therapy profession

Where Can You Find Credible Evidence-Based Research for Massage Therapy?

Where Can You Find Credible Evidence-Based Research for Massage Therapy?

This article is written by Jolie Haun, PhD, EdS, LMT, and Adrienne Asta, LMT, for the Massage Therapy Foundation.

Evidence-based practice is the foundation of advancing the science of ethical health care practices. Massage therapists represent a field of practitioners that rely on evidence-based science and literature to inform their delivery of integrative health modalities. Though there is an abundance of web-based resources, validity and reliability of data sources are both critical to ensure, as a profession, that the science is established based on rigorous evidence. Sources of evidence are key when informing and educating those in allied medical fields.

#1: National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is the nation’s medical research agency focused on discoveries that improve health and save lives. NIH seeks knowledge about living systems to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability, and its programs are designed to improve health by both conducting and supporting research. NIH and its several institutes and centers are primarily situated and have roles in advancing the massage therapy profession via its National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

Per its website, the mission of NCCIH is “to determine, through rigorous scientific investigation, the fundamental science, usefulness, and safety of complementary and integrative health approaches and their roles in improving health and health care.” Establishing scientific evidence—and ultimately advancing the state of the science—depends on an accumulation of rigorous studies, commonly random-controlled trials, that establish evidence as a collective body of literature. The massage therapy field is developing a body of literature that is mounting in efforts to prove and disprove appropriate use in palliative and clinical care among diverse patient groups.

The NCCIH site provides a multitude of resources for audiences that include clients, health professionals, and research scientists. These resources include health information, research content, information on grants and funding, training content, and news and events.  

#2: Massage Therapy Foundation 

The Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF), has released its newly developed Research Agenda. It will be a guide to continue to grow the future evidence base for massage therapy and develop funding for research in areas of practice and education that are of utmost importance in moving practice and professionalism forward and are in strategic alignment with the framework of the NCCIH. This continuity facilitates a unified approach to develop and expand the therapeutic massage profession, and improve patient care as well as professional practice.

#3: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Clinical Digest

Another resource is the NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly electronic newsletter that summarizes the state of the science on integrative health practices for health conditions, including a review of clinical guidelines, literature searches, continuing medical education, and information for clients. In each issue, evidence-based information is presented for the highlighted condition.

In December of 2018, the NCCIH Clinical Digest published a review of the literature and evidence base about the clinical effects of massage for eight conditions that have been topics of interest in the field of massage therapy. 

Those eight topics are:

•          Low-Back Pain

•          Neck and Shoulder Pain

•          Osteoarthritis

•          Headache

•          Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

•          Fibromyalgia

•          HIV/AIDS

•          Infant Care

There is some evidence supporting the use of massage therapy for these and possibly other conditions. However, there is still a significant amount of scientific inquiry needed to establish a “strong” evidence base for the use of massage therapy for a multitude of conditions. Licensed massage practitioners can contribute to this evidence through case reports. A free, comprehensive resource to doing a case report can be found here

Collaborative Resources to Discover and Explore

Similar to NCCIH, MTF is committed to funding and disseminating evidenced-based research to support the massage therapy profession, and looks for opportunities for collaboration. For example, MTF’s seed funding helped initiate one study, which was subsequently fully funded by NIH. MTF has also aligned its International Massage Therapy Research Conference (IMTRC), presented triennially since 2005, where NIH speakers and prominent health care leaders attended and presented. In fact, in 2019, Helene Langevin, MD, NCCIH’s director, was the keynote speaker.  

As the state of the science continues to advance, the NCCIH publishes digests providing accessibility to promote research literacy among massage therapy practitioners and consumers. So, too, does The International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (IJTMB) an open-access, peer-reviewed publication that accommodates the diverse needs of the rapidly expanding therapeutic massage community, which also references and features NIH and NCCIH articles.

As consumers of science, massage therapist professionals can subscribe to NCCIH Clinical Digest. The Digest for Health Professionals, and other resources to promote the appropriate use of integrative approaches through scientific evidence, can be found on the NCCIH website.  

Resource: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. NCCIH Clinical Digest. Massage Therapy for Health. December 2018. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/massage-therapy-for-health  

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