Research is an important part of building a solid foundation for the massage therapy profession, and massage therapists should know how to talk about research studies and their results. How can massage therapists discuss research with clients, both current and potential, other health care professionals and with colleagues?
Use Trusted Sources
The first step is to find and read articles of interest to you, as a student of massage therapy. There is a large body of research on massage therapy, and most of it is scattered among different fields, such as nursing, sports medicine, oncology and psychology.
Use trusted sources such as PubMed to find peer-reviewed research articles. Also, regularly check our own peer-reviewed open access journal for massage therapy research at the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. The Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies is another excellent source of current research in our discipline, though you’ll need a paid subscription.
Read Research Critically
Think like a skeptical detective. What evidence is being presented in support of the author’s conclusions? Can you think of other plausible explanations for the study’s findings?
For example, imagine a study on the effect of massage therapy on pain where the participants are residents in a senior care facility. The massage therapists who provided massage to study participants also served as the data collectors, asking for the participants’ ratings of pain before and after each massage. Can you think of any reasons why the seniors might rate massage as effective for them in term of relieving pain, even if it actually did not? What was the level of skill of the therapists in the study? Were they students or experienced practitioners? What kinds of techniques were used and not used? These are examples of the kinds of questions to keep in mind as you are reading research studies.
Talking About Research with Clients
One of the biggest reasons for becoming research literate is to be able to speak knowledgeably with clients—both current and potential. Remember, news about recent research is often reported in the popular media (rarely in an objective fashion) and clients may ask you, as a trusted source of health information, what you think or what implications a new study might have for their particular situation.
It’s important to be aware of the fact that a single study rarely provides compelling evidence that definitely settles a research question. More commonly, a body of evidence, composed of a number of studies using different types of study designs, accumulates over time. Each study contributes a piece of the puzzle, and taken together, can help form a more complete and nuanced picture.
With Other Health Care Professionals
When discussing research with other health care professionals, be wary of saying that research “proves” that “massage does so-and-so.” Science is based on the idea that new information can always be discovered, and can contradict what we previously thought to be true. Be cautious about any claims you make, and avoid using absolute statements.
With Other Massage Therapists
Reading research is one of the best ways to stay current on the latest developments, and that can be part of what keeps this work intellectually stimulating, especially for those of us in private practice.
Keep In Mind
Speaking knowledgeably and confidently about research is a necessary skill for today’s massage therapist. Practice critically thinking skills, and take advantage of the resources available, many of which are free or low cost, or provided by your school.
For more information on research being done in the massage therapy profession, look to the Research section of AMTA's website. Also, read updates on the Massage Therapy Foundation's website, as well as past issues of AMTA's Hands On!