You could say that massage therapy and research go “hand in hand.” That is, as more research is conducted on the value of massage across a range of health and wellness issues, massage therapists and the industry are bolstered by the findings. Research enhances the credibility and recognition of massage therapy as a valuable component of health care. Massage therapists also gain knowhow to enhance their effectiveness.
While some of this research is quantitative through surveys and controlled trials that require precise measurement, qualitative research has become more important to advancing the profession. In “Value of Qualitative Research in the Study of Massage Therapy, published in the International Journal of Massage Bodywork, back in 2008, the authors point to the increasing use then of qualitative research, which “investigates phenomena in an in-depth and holistic fashion, through the collection of rich narrative materials in a flexible design” to understand the impact of massage therapy on participants. Qualitative research explores how people feel and think about massage therapy.
State of today’s MT research
Today through organizations such as the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF); National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Clinical Digest (NCCIH), massage therapists have access to an abundance of evidence-based research on the value of massage for physical health and wellness.
Research has been conducted in such areas as massage for migraines, cancer, spinal cord injury, recovery from traumatic injury, chronic pain in opioid dependent patients, fibromyalgia, depression, enhanced immune function and more.
Ways to research helps the profession
In an interview conducted by Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) a few years ago, award winning educator and author and former president of MTF Ruth Werner points out several ways research can benefit massage therapists. Among them, Werner notes that because research enables the industry to question traditions – many of them from ancient times – massage therapists can be more effective and accurate and avoid making mistakes and even false claims.
Research also helps massage therapists and bodywork practitioners build relationships with other health care providers, since everyone understands research. This results in more positive outcomes for clients.
Applying research to the treatment room
When it comes to applying research to their practice, Werner suggests therapists could take ideas from case reports that they can apply to a session. Also, research can influence policy and legislation, such as making a case for massage therapy to be covered by insurance. With an increasing evidence base, professionals are learning more about the value of massage as a free-standing intervention and as part of integrated approach to wellness.
The message is for massage therapists to stay informed. Research helps clients understand the benefits of different treatments, it raises the status of massage therapy as integral to health care and it provides better results for clients.
 Kania A, Porcino A, Vehoef MJ. Value of qualitative research in the study of massage therapy. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2008 Dec 15;1(2):6-10. doi: 10.3822/ijtmb.v1i2.26. PMID: 21589716; PMCID: PMC3091453.
 Buford, Darren, “4 Questions With Ruth Werner: Why is Massage Research Important,” Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, July 14, 2016. https://www.abmp.com/abmp-blog/4-questions-ruth-werner-why-massage-research-important
 4 Questions With Ruth Werner: Why is Massage Research Important,” Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals