(Above) Irina Todorov, MD, medical director, Cleveland Clinic, Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine, addresses attendees of the International Massage Therapy Research Conference.

Presentations at the recent Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) conference featured research by academicians, practitioners and policymakers covering topics on massage therapy practice—through both research and the application of scientific principles, with particular emphasis on public health.

The MTF held its 2022 tri-annual International Massage Therapy Research Conference (IMTRC) at the Westin Alexandria Old Town, in Alexandria, Virginia, May 12-13.   

Built on the successes of MTF’s six previous conferences, IMTRC 2022 brought together practitioners, educators, students, researchers, scientists and industry professionals to discuss current, innovative ideas and diverse topics. More than 260 registrants from North America attended.

MTF President Adrienne Asta, LMT

“IMTRC brought professionals together to discuss fresh topics of understanding massage therapy research,” said MTF President Adrienne Asta, LMT.

“There is potentially much to be gained from examining how concepts and theories might be better leveraged to move the professional forward,” Asta said. “This conference helped link practitioner communities to important research and meaningful new pathways for discussion and collaboration.”

The IMTRC’s Objectives

The objectives of this conference were to:

1. Provide the massage therapy profession with a focused program on current research demonstrating the efficacy of massage in many different iterations;

2. Highlight compelling dialogue with presenters, panelists, vendors, and colleagues on findings;

3. Enable attendees to go back to practices and schools with evidence-informed content to share with clients, students, and colleagues in health and wellness communities; and

4. Foster discussion and strengthen connections.

The conference opened with the MTF’s Past President Robin Anderson, MEd, LMT, BCTMB, CEAS, who gave an overview of the state of MTF’s free and open-access resources and research accomplishments. With a focus on the research environment and literature, the theme of IMTRC 2022 was MTF’s comprehensive, new Research Agenda.

NCCIH Research Priorities

MTF was honored to have a keynote address by Peter Murray, PhD, program director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a component of the National Institutes of Health, who discussed the NCCIH research priorities and how they relate to the massage therapy community.

Murray discussed how the massage therapy community correlates to the NCCIH research priorities and related NCCIH’s work regarding integrative approaches to pain management and the role of massage therapy, with studies aimed at developing non-opioid interventions to treat pain.

MTF’s Research Agenda

The opening panel on May 12 provided perspectives from Douglas Nelson, LMT, BCTMB, Anderson, Niki Munk, PhD, LMT, and Ann Blair Kennedy, LMT, BCTMB, DrPH, on the MTF’s Research Agenda, a vital aspect of broadening MTF’s responsibility to help enhance the massage therapy knowledge base and grow support for the application of quality research among the integrative health and massage communities.

Douglas Nelson, LMT, BCTMB

Presentations elaborated on the four Research Agenda objectives:

•  Advance fundamental science and methods development;

•  Improve care for health-related symptoms and conditions;

•  Foster health promotion, cultivate well-being, and support disease prevention; and

•  Support the establishment and continuation of educational research focused on massage therapy pedagogy/andragogy.

Massage for Managing Pain

The second panel included Irina Todorov, MD, medical director, Cleveland Clinic, Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine, Leisa Bellmore, MSc, ST, a shiatsu therapist and member of the integrative team at Toronto Western Hospital’s Artists’ Health Centre, and Jolie Haun, PhD EdS, LMT, research health scientist at Veterans Health, who discussed “Massage Therapy as an Integrative Approach to Managing Pain.”

Hospital-Based Massage

The third panel featured Hunter Groninger,  MD, Georgetown University/MedStar Health, Washington, DC, and Jennifer Hauschulz, BCTMB, Integrative Medicine and Health, Mayo Clinic, with a discussion of “Hospital-Based Massage Therapy: Improving the Quality of Life for Patients.

Groninger discussed “working within a general scope of an engagement with an individual rather than a protocol.” He talked about how the study he worked on was “massage therapy research in the setting of advanced illness, to measuring what matters, even if it is intangible, and how to bring those intangible elements—a sense of peacefulness, for example—into a study itself to understand that more.”

Get Involved in the MTF

The final panel of day one was presented by Anderson and Kelson Wann, ATC, FMS, and focused on how to “Get Involved: Massage Therapy Foundation and You.” They provided an update on MTF’s Ergonomic Study that investigated massage therapy and then created recommended models for workplace safety and techniques to offer a significant contribution to practitioner health and longevity.

Massage for Various Conditions

Day two began with “Massage Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients,”presented by Danielle Gentile, PhD, and Brent Bauer, MD. This was followed by The Latest Science on Muscles and Massage, presented by Esther Dupont-Versteegden, PhD, College of Health Sciences, University of Kentucky.

Brent Bauer, MD

The next speaker focused on Massage Therapy for Veterans, presented by Alison M. Whitehead, MPH, RYT, PMP, acting director Integrative Health Coordinating Center (IHCC), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The final panel included Geoffrey Bove, DC, PhD, Douglas Nelson, LMT, BCTMB, Niki Munk, PhD, LMT, and Samantha Zabel, PhD(c). Together, the group discussed Massage Therapy Research: Putting All the Pieces Together.

Niki Munk, PhD, LMT

Bove asked, “Why do we even need research? We have seen a lot today and yesterday where we now understand how it affects directly and indirectly in day-to-day practice. Content presented here is a good foundation for techniques … as we look into the mechanisms.”

Case Reports

Featured at the event were case report posters created by practitioners. The posters disseminated clinical data, research, and anecdotal outcomes in a concise manner through a combination of text and graphics.

The content of the posters drew considerable interest from the attendees and provided clear take-home messages. Topics included:

• Pressure Levels of Massage Affect Pain and Anxiety of Patients with Cancer: A Retrospective Review, Jill S. Cole, MA, LMT, BCTMB; Carolyn Jauco-Trott, MPH, LMT; Marilyn E. Burke, LMT; Hailey B. W. Gallivan, MA, LMT; Sabrina V. Brown, DPH; Stacey A. Slone, MS; Esther E. Dupont-Versteegden, PhD;

Massage Therapy and Spinal Cord Injury in a Cervical Collar: A Case Study, Bethany Contini, LMT;

Guidelines and Protocol Developed for Hospitalized Pediatric Patients with Deep Vein Thrombosis, Corrie Frey, LMT, CIMI, CPMT; Deborah Zerkle, LMT;

• MT a Non-Pharmacological Support for Infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: A Case Series, Robin Gawronski, LMT, CIMI, CLT; Deborah Zerkle, LMT;

Effect of Massage on Blood Pressure in Patients with Hypertension: A Meta-Analysis, Maheshkumar K; V.Venugopal;  C. Yogapriya; A. Akila; B. Deenadayalan;  M.Pandiaraja; S.Poonguzhali;

Initiating Inpatient Massage Therapy at a Pediatric Hospital, Robin Miccio, MS, LMT, CPMT; Tiffany Silliman Cohen, LMT; Jennifer Evans, LMT; Maria Mascarenhas, MBBS;

• Long COVID Syndrome and Massage Therapy: What the Symptoms Can Teach Us About Management, Elias Wheibe; Benjamin H. Dalkin; Rebecca Russ-Sellers, PhD; Jennifer Grier, PhD;

• Massage Therapy Assists Infant With Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: A Case Study, Deborah Zerkle, LMT; Amanda Sonk, LMT; Robin Gawronski, LMT; Travis Duffey, LMT.

Furthering Conversations

The overall event was structured to foster discussion among participants around the core conference themes. This took place during lunchtime, coffee breaks, and networking to allow participants to continue their discussions after each session

Conference participants were urged to keep in mind some of the important lessons gleaned from the event and to search for ways to incorporate and engage the content from the conference more fully in everyday practices.

“It is our hope that this conference can continue to spur meaningful conversations about massage therapy research among not only practitioners, educators, and researchers, but also among those in allied medical fields,” said Asta. “MTF hopes that conversations and actions can move in the direction of greater coherence, shared knowledge and community.”

Attendee Robynne Madill, RMT, and practical director, Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy, in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, has great interest in research at the student level and that is why she participated in IMTRC 2022. She said, “Conferences such as this inspire attendees to contribute to research as clinicians, participants, and possibly, to pursue further study in research development.

“Research helps shape the practices and knowledge base of future massage therapists and of the massage therapy profession,” Madill continued. “We were thrilled to see two new infographics at the MTF booth to further expand our campus collection. It is critically important that students are aware of the lapses in evidence for previously held theories, as well as be aware of new research coming forward.”

Toward the Future

The final panel of day one was presented by Anderson  and Kelson Wann, ATC, FMS and focused on how to “Get Involved: Massage Therapy Foundation and You.” They provided an update on MTF’s Ergonomic Study that investigated massage therapy and then created recommended models for workplace safety and techniques to offer a significant contribution to practitioner health and longevity.

IMTRC closed with discussions of what might be some useful additional outputs to come from the discussions in the months and years ahead, including furthering conversations to plan needed research studies, encouraging students to create case report studies and posters, and getting involved in massage therapy research through the Massage Therapy Foundation.

If you were unable to attend IMTRC 2022 and have interest in participating in research, visit the MTF’s website and sign up for the monthly newsletter. Attendees received educational CE credits for attending. Some of the presentations will be available after the event for viewing or CEs.

Also, look into MTF’s MassageNet Practice-Based Research Network (PBRN) and personally contribute research content based on what happens in the field and how massage and bodywork contribute to health outcomes.

IMTRC was supported by premier sponsor American Massage Therapy Association, as well as Books of Discovery, the Fascia Research Society, Hands Heal HER, Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, and Thera Cane.

MTF’s next International Massage Therapy Research Conference is intended to be planned for 2025. A three-year event cycle is applied because it is a good interval to allow MTF to gather colleagues and presenters who can provide the most up-to-date research and valuable information.

About the Author

Marla M. Gamze is Development & Communications Manager for the Massage Therapy Foundation.