Young business woman writing research concept for massage research

Questioning and testing long-held beliefs and assumptions in massage therapy helps advance our profession.

It was once thought that drinking water after a massage helped wash away the toxins that were believed to be released from the muscles during the massage session, for example. It was also thought that no one with cancer, or even a cancer history, could receive massage therapy; and it was believed that pregnant women could not receive massage during their first trimester.

All of these ideas have been dispelled by massage research.

Let’s say you have a question or an idea and you want to test it through a massage research project. That was me in 2002 as I studied for my master’s degree.

Already practicing as a massage therapist for over a decade and as a nurse for twice that amount of time, I pondered the impact of massage on the stress levels that nurses face in a hospital setting.

With that, my thesis project started to take shape and the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF), the massage field’s dedicated massage research foundation played a significant role in its creation through the Research Grant Program. I was fortunate to be the recipient of a grant and was able to complete a research project that involved 82 bedside nurses.

Close up male positions pains set with medicated isolated white background. The Impact of Massage Research

The Massage Therapy Foundation, according to its mission statement, “Advances the knowledge and practice of massage therapy by supporting scientific research, education, and community service.”

Through this massage research foundation’s grant program, experienced researchers and new investigators alike have an opportunity to explore the impact of massage on many diverse populations, conditions and treatments.

As stated on the Massage Therapy Foundation’s website, “Rigorous research about massage can challenge tradition, but it strengthens our profession, and provides guidance for massage therapists to be as effective as possible.”

Exploring new thoughts of how massage therapy can help address a condition—and how massage therapy impacts the muscles, blood flow, nerves, thought processes and mood—all give us information to use or question further. Research informs us and teaches us.Although the above-mentioned beliefs have been dispelled by research, I highly recommend that massage therapists take training to safely provide massage for these populations and others.

Studies can also provide an insight into the public perception of massage therapy, as well as its place in health care delivery systems. All of this is beneficial for therapists as we strive to deliver safe and effective massage to our clients in various situations.

Apply for a Grant

Who should apply for a grant? Anyone who has an interest in research, experience in the area being studied or a hypothesis or theory to test. A sponsoring organization may also apply. The organization can be a university, hospital, independent research organization or other institution deemed appropriate.

Since my project was tied to my master’s thesis, I had a university as my sponsoring organization. I also had the support of the hospital where I was working. My interest was in exploring the impact of chair massage on the stress perception of nurses at the hospital.

My further interest was in being able to use the results, if positive, to help promote having massage therapy available in the hospital for the staff. The results showed a significant improvement in stress perception for the nurses who received the massage when compared to those who took a self-directed break.

Armed with the results from my study and others that helped inform mine, I was able to get approval for weekly chair massage at the hospital where I work, for the staff.

Network people job searchingLook to the Massage Therapy Foundation

The Massage Therapy Foundation website provides a great deal of information to use including examples of research that has been funded in the past. Research funded in 2015 includes “Massage Perceptions and Experiences for Individuals and Amputations,” “Massage Impact on Chronic Pain in Opioid Dependent Patients,” and “The Impact of Massage Therapy on Spasticity in People with Multiple Sclerosis,” to name a few.

From the Massage Therapy Foundation website, the following helps paint a picture of all that they do and the value of research in the massage therapy profession:

Rigorous research about massage can challenge tradition, but it strengthens our profession, and provides guidance for massage therapists to be as effective as possible. Since its inception over 25 years ago, the Massage Therapy Foundation has funded many research projects. Topics have ranged from massage for peripheral neuropathy related to chemotherapy, to postural control of elders, to migraines, cancer, and spinal cord injury. In addition, the Massage Therapy Foundation has consulted on numerous large-scale studies, funded five systematic reviews (one on stress, and one on sports massage), founded and published the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, and hosted four international science conferences on massage therapy research.

If you have a question or an idea and want to test it out, consider ways to pursue research and look to the Massage Therapy Foundation for a grant. I am glad I did. If you don’t feel called to be a researcher, you can still contribute to the advancement of the massage therapy profession through a tax deductible contribution to the Massage Therapy Foundation You will be supporting a worthwhile cause.

MK Brennan headshotAbout the Author

MK Brennan R.N., L.M.B.T. has been a massage therapist in private practice since 1991 and is the manager of Clinical Care Management at CMC-University Hospital. She has been a member of the Massage Therapy Foundation Writing Group since 2011 and has had articles published in numerous publications. Additionally, she has held various volunteer positions, including her current service as the Society for Oncology Massage Therapy board president. Previously, she served at the chapter and national levels with the American Massage Therapy Association, including national president. Her employment and volunteer experiences have provided her with knowledge about research, the legislative process, finance management, team building, governance and leadership. She has served as a consultant for association bylaws and policy writing and participated in discussions that led to the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge. She has lived in North Carolina since 1976 and currently resides in Charlotte.