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Massage Today
May, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 05

Massage Therapy Foundation Announces 2007 Case Report Contest

By Ruth Werner, LMP, NCTMB

The Massage Therapy Foundation is proud to announce the 2007 Practitioner Case Report Contest. This is an opportunity for massage practitioners around the country and around the world to share their findings with other professionals.

Who is it for?

Any practicing massage therapist or bodyworker with liability coverage can participate in this contest.

It takes curiosity, effort, interest and, for many of us, a willingness to learn new skills.

We are in the midst of a quiet explosion of research being conducted on the physiological and psychological effects of massage and bodywork. The February 2007 edition of Massage Today had two front-page articles citing research on massage - one on low back pain and the other on cancer pain. The January 2007 edition's front page referenced research on massage for piriformis syndrome, chronic pain and cancer. A recent search of the PubMed database for "massage NOT prostate, NOT cardiac" yielded 5,999 citations, each one a project in which massage was featured either as a modality or a variable.1

Some of us came up in this profession before the idea of conducting research about massage was feasible. We grew up on educated guesses and well-respected traditions that seemed to bear out in clinical settings, but with only the vaguest ideas of why. Isn't it time to ask those questions? And shouldn't the people who formulate the answers be real massage therapists, working with real clients?

Why should massage therapists do case studies?

The world of formal research for massage is a mystery to many of us. It conjures up visions of lab technicians in white coats administering X number of effleurage strokes and Y number of petrissage strokes, somehow measuring their effects. But this vision is not a realistic representation of how massage is practiced. It is vital that research about massage arise from the work of "in-the-field" practitioners. This begins with case reports.

The size and scope of any study determines its place in the hierarchy of research projects. For the sake of simplicity, and because this is a form that lends itself well to case reports, I am referring here to experimental studies; that is, projects in which a client's status is evaluated before and after a massage series, and the researcher ties the outcomes (change in function) to the exposure (massage modality). For the record, however, experimental studies are only one example of the many types of questions that can be asked about massage and function.

A case report is a chance to tell your story, in a more formal way, about what kinds of changes happen when you work with your clients. It informs the larger research community about what kind of work we do, what kinds of tools we use and what kinds of results we get. And ultimately, it lays the groundwork for further, more exhaustive research.

As a writer and educator in the field of massage and pathology, I hear a lot of "I have a client who..." stories. I've even offered classes with that title so practitioners can share their experiences with others. Now, I challenge you to turn that experience into a tool the whole profession can use.

Data table showing hierarchy of experimental studies. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

How does this serve us?

The benefits of research in any health care field are almost too many to mention. Different aspects will appeal to different people. Here are just a few of the advantages:

  • Research helps to determine "best practices." This allows educators to educate better, and allows practitioners to practice more efficiently and effectively.
  • Research creates a bridge to other health care modalities so we can communicate with other professionals in a credible way.
  • Research helps to sort out realistic expectations from wishful thinking. It reduces the need to make hyperbolic claims about the benefits of massage because reproducible, reliable results are recorded in a way that all health care providers, licensing bodies and regulating agencies can recognize.

And the information compiled on an individual level (that's you), creating high-quality case reports, helps to determine the direction of larger, more expensive and more revealing studies about how our work influences human function.

In the Practitioner Case Report Contest, every massage therapist has a chance to influence the direction of this profession. Be a part of it!

The contest

Contest guidelines can be found at: Go to the Web site and click on the icon for the Practitioner Case Report Contest. The information you find there will guide you through every step of the process; an excellent case report has been posted as an example.

We all recognize that formalizing a case study is a challenging undertaking. No one expects you to be able to do this in a vacuum. You are invited to use up to two advisors who may have more experience in this field. Furthermore, the Massage Therapy Foundation has compiled an excellent list of suggested reading to introduce massage therapists new to this field. It is provided in Appendix B, page 8 of the Case Report Guidelines.

Other important documents provided by the Massage Therapy Foundation include an informed consent form for clients, HIPAA guidelines, a photograph release form, and, as an added bonus, the reference for how to accrue up to 48 National Certifying Board continuing education credits.

Finally, this contest even comes with the following palpable awards:

Practitioner case report contest awards

Grand Prize "Gold" Award

  • a cash award of $2,500, plus up to a $1,000 stipend each for the winner and one advisor to attend the 2008 AMTA National Convention;
  • publication of the case report in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, plus a two-year subscription;
  • publication of the case report on the Massage Therapy Foundation's Web site, with local and national press releases announcing the winner and advisor;
  • and much more!

Second Place "Silver" Award

  • $2,000 cash prize;
  • publication of the case report on the Massage Therapy Foundation's Web site, with local and national press releases announcing the second prize winner and advisor;
  • and much more!

Third Place "Bronze" Award

  • $1,500 cash prize;
  • publication of the case report on the Massage Therapy Foundation's Web site, with local and national press releases announcing the third place practitioner and advisor;
  • and much more!

On a personal note, I have recently been honored to join the Massage Therapy Foundation Board of Trustees as Education Chair. The Student Case Report Contest, which currently is in its third year, and the Practitioner Case Report Contest serve both education and research goals for the foundation. I serve on the review committees for these events. I am deeply committed to seeing them fulfill their purpose to promote the exploration of research and the credibility of massage therapy as a profession.

I am from the generation of massage therapists who grew up on folklore and tradition. I have entered the world of research with great humility because in this field, I often am far out of my depth. But I recognize the need for our profession to take ourselves seriously by documenting the important work we do, and this is how that process begins.

I hope every massage therapist who reads this will do one (or more) of three things:

  • Commit. Enter the contest - you can do it!
  • Support. Find someone who is participating and find out how you can help.
  • Give. Make a donation to the Massage Therapy Foundation at Your donations are directed to advance the knowledge and practice of massage therapy by supporting scientific research, education and community service.2 The Practitioner Case Report Contest is only one of the many ways the foundation works to fulfill its goals.

The deadline for contest submissions is Oct. 8, 2007. This means you have roughly five months to put together this project. What are you waiting for? Get busy!


  2. Massage Therapy Foundation Mission.

Click here for previous articles by Ruth Werner, LMP, NCTMB.


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