Where Do You Work? A Focus on Research


Niki Munk, LMT, Ph.D., began her career with a desire to help older adults through massage. Now an assistant professor at Indiana University on the IUPUI campus in the School of Rehabilitation and Health Sciences, Dr. Munk focuses on evidence-based research for massage therapy and its effectiveness on pain and function across the life course.

What drew you to the profession?

Transportability and the freedom to define my own practice and career first attracted to massage therapy. My original plan was to travel with a bicycle touring company. I met my husband, and those plans changed. Instead, I went into administration at the school I had attended,  and advanced to program director.

How long have you been practicing?

I had a private massage practice for twelve years which included private and nursing home visits and industry site work. Through my practice, I was drawn to working with older adults and found myself looking for education in the aging process. I was accepted as a Research Challenge Trust Fellow in a gerontology doctoral program at the University of Kentucky. Through my training I found and cultivated my real interest  which is research. I started my doctoral training in 2006 so I’ve been in this aspect of my “practice” for eight years. Unfortunately, with my transition to full time academia, I had to give up my private practice a year ago.

Why research?

I’m a type-A, organized and evidence-based person, so research is a natural fit.  While definitely getting better, research in massage therapy is not strong and not always done by researchers who practice in or are informed by the massage field. As a former practitioner, my research is certainly informed by massage practice and I focus on how massage therapy can be accessible to the masses. For example, massage therapy must be evidence-based for coverage to become mainstream.

While at U.K., I managed a NIH funded research study which utilized 25 community massage therapists. The study participants were referred to the study by their primary care physicians. We examined real-world massage therapy for chronic low back pain patients in primary careRead more about the study and outcomes. 

Where is your current work environment?

I work in academia. I'm currently an Assistant Professor in the department of Health Sciences at the Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Science on the IUPUI campus, focusing on massage therapy research and gerontology. I  teach Rehabilitation Theory and Application in our Doctoral Program and Gerontology courses in our undergraduate BS in Health Sciences Program. 

What do you enjoy most about your current position?

Like most, I love to teach. I love research. Though I miss the hands-on aspect of the massage practice, the evidence-based part can be even more beneficial to scores of people. I’m happy with that trade off.

What are the challenges?

The challenge is that massage therapy is not a traditional academic track. However, rehabilitation and/or health sciences are a natural fit for massage. There are still some stereotypes, but I am comfortable in my skin as a researcher in massage therapy which makes me more of a force for change and a resource for compelling and accurate information.

What is a typical day like?

I spend the day talking, teaching, writing, presenting to diverse groups of audiences—students, graduates, physicians, therapists and community members--working on grants, conducting research, grading and writing papers, and, finally, going home to my family.

How has being an AMTA member impacted your career?

When I started practicing, I took a lot of calls from adult children and caregivers who had found me through the Find a Massage Therapist locator service while searching for a specialist in gerontological populations. Through the AMTA National Convention and the research track, I have come into contact with a community of folks who have been influential people in my life , career and story.

Advice for newcomers to the profession?

You don’t have to have the answer for your career right now. Where you are in the beginning doesn’t have to dictate where you will end.

Why should AMTA members attend your sessions at the AMTA National Convention in Denver?

The Research panel will give attendees the opportunity to see researchers at various levels in field. They will be able to meet, talk and hear about what researchers do. I specifically will be sharing the results of the chronic low back pain and real world massage study that I am an investigator with from UK.

In my session, Current Research on Massage and Elders, attendees will discover what evidence-based means, how to access it, and how to apply it. Therapists will learn that they already have the tools for working with older adults, and how to use that knowledge to apply to a treatment plan. They will gain skills they can take back and immediately apply to their practice.

Learn more about the AMTA 2014 National Convention

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"AMTA and my chapter have already given me back so much that I cannot believe I ever considered another group."

Chris B., AMTA member since 2012

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