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Massage Today
October, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 10

What Does the Massage Therapy Foundation Do For You?

By Ruth Werner, LMP, NCTMB

If you are like me, at some point in your massage school career you heard something like, "Cancer contraindicates massage because increased blood and lymph flow will speed metastasis. Your client will die sooner, and it will be your fault." And then later, you were introduced to the idea of oncology massage for cancer patients.

Did you ever stop to question how this came about? Who determined that massage was dangerous in the first place? And who was brave enough to challenge that conventional wisdom?

Occasionally I have the opportunity to meet massage therapists outside the context of conferences or trade shows. When I do, I usually ask them if they've ever heard of the Massage Therapy Foundation. The response is almost always the same: "The what?" This answer causes me a little frustration and a lot of optimism, because it points to a huge untapped resource of people who don't yet know what the Massage Therapy Foundation is doing for them, and I know they're going to be excited about it when they find out.

Working for You

For those who don't know — and you're the ones I really want to talk to — the Massage Therapy Foundation is working for you. We were formed by the AMTA in 1991 with the mission of advancing the massage therapy profession through supporting scientific research, education and community service. We do this by raising money that we invest in programs to serve our vision: the practice of massage therapy is informed by evidence and is accessible to everyone.

MTF logo - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The Foundation can only fund relatively small-scale research studies, but some of them have had huge impact. In the early 1990's, we funded some of the first research to challenge the "cancer contraindicates massage" shibboleth. The consequence: today massage therapists are able to offer safe, appropriate and welcomed touch to cancer patients. That work continues. In 2011, we funded a study on the use of massage for patients who had become addicted to opioids because of chronic pain. The 2012 grants will study massage along with exercise for weight management, and using massage to help treat chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. You can find a whole list of the studies in which the Foundation has invested a total of about $750,000 here:


The more than $370,000 that we have given to community service grants since 1993 have had local and international impact, delivering massage to under served populations including homeless people in the U.S., Indians working in the fields in central Mexico and orphans in Japan and Uzbekistan. A full history of our community service grants can be found here:

It's fun to talk about our research grants and our community service grants, because these can make every donor to the Foundation feel proud that their money is being used for such a good cause. But the work of the Foundation goes far beyond these programs.


It is important for you to know that the Massage Therapy Foundation is working –every single day– for you. Since its inception, the Foundation has been building and nurturing relationships within the research community. We have worked closely with the leading massage therapy researchers in this country and around the world. We don't just fund small-scale projects. We also help to sponsor international meetings, we offer consultation on NIH-funded research, we recruit experts to help with our own programs and we serve as a conduit for researchers with similar interests to find each other. The net result is that when a research project comes to fruition, the Massage Therapy Foundation often had something to do with it.

What does this do for you? It drives business to your door. Research that demonstrates the benefits of massage regularly makes headlines in major media outlets. This year alone massage research was featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, NPR, and many other outlets. Having an evidence base that demonstrates the benefits of massage helps YOUR bottom line. The days when we had to make hyperbolic claims about what massage could do, or "best guesses" about whether massage works are over, and solid information — in scientifically rigorous, credible forms — is now available for you to use to build your practice.


Research and community service grants are the tangible outputs of the Massage Therapy Foundation's mission. Education is third part of its job, and in many ways it is the focus that is closest to my heart. I am not an academic or a researcher, but I am a curious person. I believe that every massage therapist has the capacity — and even an obligation — to be curious. The Foundation gives you the tools to turn that curiosity into better outcomes for your clients. After all, if another massage therapist has already documented success in similar circumstances, why reinvent the wheel?

Here are some of those tools:

A lot of people feel intimidated by scientific articles because they are uncomfortable with that language. The Foundation's Basics of Research Literacy course is an online, self-paced interactive learning project that will help you move toward a more effective evidence-informed practice:

The Foundation's Case Report Contests for students and practitioners provide an opportunity for you to tell your stories about your work with clients in a way that every other massage therapist can benefit. Case reports add important data to our profession's evidence base. How can we grow this without your input:

Maybe it would help if you had access to a peer-reviewed scientific journal dedicated to massage research. The International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork is a rigorous academic publication that is open-sourced and available without subscription:

For even more information, check out the research column that is published in every issue of Massage Today: it is a recap of an important research article, put into lay-person's terms by Foundation volunteers, so that every massage therapist can make use of the research being conducted today:

Are you a teacher, wanting to bring some research literacy skills into your classroom? Watch for Teaching Research Literacy, a free 1-day workshop hosted by ABMP's Instructors on the Front Lines program:

Maybe you learn best by being in direct contact with others. Wouldn't it be inspiring to spend three days with massage therapy researchers, learning about their work and making suggestions for future studies? Make plans now to attend the International Massage Therapy Research Conference, presented by the Massage Therapy Foundation April 25-27, 2013, in Boston, Massachusetts:

Looking for some instant gratification? (Aren't we all?) Download our Education Toolbar. In about five minutes you'll have a bar on your internet browser that will give you instant access to (the world's largest database of science journals), Google Scholar, the Cochrane Library, and several other search engines. It has links to educational tools, the Foundation's blog pages, and much more:

This is just a short list of assets and services the Massage Therapy Foundation provides for you today, but these services are expanding all the time. In the works at this minute: an e-book on how to use research to build partnerships with physicians in your area; a webinar series on writing excellent case reports; and an updated Massage Therapy Research Agenda.

So, in a nutshell, that's what the Massage Therapy Foundation does for you. Our call to action is to USE these resources. Sign up for our monthly newsletter that will alert you to the latest Foundation projects. Download the Education Toolbar. Read the Massage Today research column. Participate in the Case Report Contest. Come to the Research Conference. Read the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

The Foundation's revenue comes from the AMTA (our largest donor), other industry supporters and a small amount comes from individual donors. These supporters allow us to invest about $200,000 each year in our granting and educational programs that help you — whether you're a donor or not. If every massage therapist reading this article gave the value of one massage per year to the Massage Therapy Foundation, we could invest over $2 million in research, education and community service. Do you want to be a part of that? It's easy: click on the "Donate Now" button at to join in our vision that the practice of massage therapy is informed by evidence, and accessible to everyone.

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


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