From the MASSAGE Magazine article, “The Top 3 Trends Shaping the Massage Profession,” by Karen Menehan, in the Trends & Opportunities 2009 issue. Article summary: Massage therapy’s roots run deep, intertwined with preventive health care, spas, athletics and, increasingly, the medical system. The profession’s longstanding branches have grown sturdier with time—but even as ancient techniques are updated for today’s clientele, new shoots are springing forth as the field expands.
The Massage Therapy Foundation (www.massagetherapyfoundation.org) is a public charity that advances the massage profession through research, community service projects and education. The foundation’s president, Diana L. Thompson, L.M.T., sat down with MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief, Karen Menehan, to discuss trends in massage research.
MASSAGE Magazine: What is the most important or interesting development in the area of massage research going on right now?
Diana Thompson: The most interesting thing I have heard is Helene Langevin’s theory of fascia as a separate system, not necessarily as a part of the musculoskeletal system, but as an independent system like the nervous system or lymphatic system.
She proposes it’s a system that communicates with all the other systems—and I think that’s pretty dramatic. She’s doing ultrasound on humans to look at layers of muscle, skin and fascia and how they relate to each other.
MM: How will this research affect the massage field?
DT: I think it’s an area of research that’s going to give us information about how we are and what we do [as massage therapists] from a broader perspective. If we think about fascia differently, we’re going to teach about it differently.
Currently we teach about it like it’s a segmented thing, like a box that goes around muscles. We’re not looking at fascia as a full-body system and how it stretches from one end of the body to the other, and we’re not looking at what it goes through—the muscles, organs and nerves.
It’s a much different structure than what we’ve ever looked at before, and I think [Langevin’s research] is going to change a lot of things—how we teach, how we practice—and that’s a development that tops anything else I’ve seen in all my years participating in the research world.
MM: What other exciting things are happening in massage-related research?
DT: I just read an article about using dye, or nuclear isotopes, to inject into a cancer tumor. [The physicians] wait to see what lymph nodes it goes to, so they only take out the nodes that are pertinent to that person’s cancer.
Nuclear isotopes do enhance the accuracy of the findings, but nuclear medicine is expensive and is not always available—so what they’re doing is using lymphatic drainage. They’re applying just a few minutes of it after they put in the dye, and it’s increasing the accuracy of locating the sentinel node [the lymph node into which the lymph ducts drain first] by 98 percent.
MM: What are the implications of this?
DT: I think it validates lymphatic drainage as a technique that’s useful in medicine. It’s not necessarily an application we would do in our own practices, but it raises the value of massage therapy in the eyes of surgeons and cancer doctors. It just puts us on the map in terms of being a useful therapy.
MM: Research studies on massage and related therapies are increasingly common, with new ones being published at least every couple of weeks in medical journals. Why is there now such a proliferation of research?
DT: I’d say since about 2003, the big turning point could have been the big increase in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) funding, when the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine put out big multimillion dollar grants, saying “You’ve got to develop programs to teach doctors about integrative medicine, complementary and alternative medicine.”
And then just in the past couple of years, they’ve been giving brick-and-mortar grants, giving universities money to build integrative medicine centers—so I think as a result of that there’s a lot more research being done at the university level.
MM: Can you describe an important study going on right now?
DT: My absolute favorite study is a Foundation-funded study taking place in Boston, Massachusetts. It’s a study with obese Latina adolescents, so these are 12- to 17-year-old-girls who were getting nutritional consulting and exercise consulting.
Researchers were getting some results with these girls, but not getting the results they’d hoped for—and then they added seated massage to the mix, and compliance went up 90 percent. These girls were drinking water instead of soda, choosing fruits and vegetables over sweet and salty snacks.
MM: Why do you think massage improved the girls’ compliance?
DT: Massage is really about increasing their self-esteem and self-awareness. They realize they’re a person worthy of being healthy. Self-esteem changes how you choose to treat your body.
MM: What implications could this study have down the line?
DT: The key here for me is research has so much been about isolating down a particular technique or group and looking at one aspect of a treatment, rather than combining treatments. I really believe the trend is toward whole-systems research—we need to start looking at what’s happening throughout the body, the mind and the spirit, and combining different types of techniques.
Like in this Latina study, massage is an add-on—so instead of looking at massage being a treatment for obesity, massage is a treatment component, along with nutrition and exercise.
The other public health implications for this are very broad, like around smoking and sex decisions, all kinds of things young people are faced with—how do you get kids to make good decisions about their health and bodies and well-being? If massage could make a difference for these kids, I think it could make huge difference in the whole public health arena.
MM: Will CAM be integrated into medical settings in the future?
DT: I think people recognize the health-care system is broken and something needs to be done about it. Something is going right in these alternative health-care clinics, and they almost have no choice but to integrate it into the medical system.