Tiffany Field on Massage Research
Institutions throughout North America are conducting
clinical research into the benefits and mechanisms of massage therapy.
This wasn’t always the case.
Thirty years ago, when Tiffany Field, Ph.D.,
was a new mother, she massaged her infant daughter, who was born
prematurely. The calming effects she witnessed inspired Field, a
professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, to study prematurity and
Field began conducting research into the beneficial
effects of healthy touch in 1982, long before massage was even beginning
to be accepted by either physicians or the public. In 1992 she established
the Touch Research Institutes (TRI) at the University of Miami School
of Medicine, with a start-up grant from Johnson & Johnson. Before
TRI, no other organization was focused only on the study of touch.
The research that put Field, and TRI, on the
map showed that massage caused premature infants to gain more weight
than their non-massaged peers—thereby improving the infants’
health and potentially saving millions of dollars each year in health-care
costs. That study was published in 1988. Today, more than 100 studies
and 350 medical-journal articles later, Field is recognized as the
premier expert in, and advocate for, touch research.
Field and her colleagues at TRI have conducted
studies on topics including autism, ADHD, anorexia, pregnancy, low-back
pain, fibromyalgia, migraine, cerebral palsy, spinal-cord injury,
asthma and many more. (For a complete list, visit www6.miami.edu/touch-research.)
Physicians are increasingly taking notice of massage, Field said,
and are contacting TRI to get advice on setting up massage studies.
Field sat down with MASSAGE Magazine following
her keynote address at the Florida State Massage Therapy Association
conference in Orlando, Florida, in June, to share her thoughts on
the past and future of massage research.
For the massage field to play a role in shaping
the future of touch research, Field said, more massage therapists
need to earn Ph.D.s in fields that will allow them to conduct research
incorporating massage, such as neuroscience, psychology or biology.
“We (TRI) do research not funded as massage
research, like [research into] prenatal depression,” Field
explained. Researchers might add massage to, for example, a psychology
study on depressed pregnant women.
“Just adding massage makes such an incredible
difference,” Field said. “In everything we’ve
done, massage is significantly effective. There’s not a single
condition we’ve looked at—including cancer—that
hasn’t responded positively to massage.”
She said that key components of massage’s
benefit include the decrease in cortisol and increase of dopamine
and serotonin affected by massage.
“If people say massage works ‘because
it makes you feel good’ … excuse me!” Field said.
“Massage works because it changes your whole physiology.”
— Karen Menehan