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Teaching for the Evidence-Informed Practitioner

Massage school teachers may be the most under-served members of the massage therapy profession. They are often put in front of classrooms merely on the basis of having been licensed for a proscribed period of time. Most of them don’t have any opportunity to develop skills around delivery of information or how to communicate with Gen-X learners—much less how to keep up with the most current content for their curricula.

A great example of outdated content is the Lactic Acid Myth. The idea that lactic acid is the cause of muscle soreness was shown to be false in 2004.1 But this concept is still being taught in classes. Massage therapists are still entering the field with claims about how massage moves lactic acid and thereby helps to remove toxins. When the research shows this is wrong, it damages the whole profession.
There is a definite lag time between the generation of new information, incorporating it into the classroom, and then putting it into practice. This really points out a vacuum in the culture of massage therapy education. It is the responsibilities of educators and their administrations to support the updating of curricula when new information is released.

So, how do we update content when lesson plans are already codified? The obstacles are many—changing learning objectives, altering lectures, redoing assignments, rewriting tests—it simply isn’t practical to do this every time a new study is released. Unfortunately, no simple solutions exist for staying current in the classroom,

My suggestion? Both teachers, and administrators need to begin to shift toward having an open mind and committing to a regular review of curriculum to see if what is being taught still matches what is being reported in new research. If a trusted educator demonstrates a commitment to seeking out the latest information—even if it challenges some long-held ideas—then that expectation is passed along to students, too.

Ultimately the message in science classes for massage therapists has to change from “here is the truth, and it will always be thus” to “here is what we understand about this now, but that may change, and, as a massage therapist, it is now your job to stay on top of this information.”

A few websites are particularly helpful for updating curriculum content. Here are some of my favorites:

AMTA's Research section: AMTA’s Research section is an online repository for health care research, articles and professional development resources related to massage therapy. You can Email your questions to mic@amtamassage.org and AMTA will help you find the resources that you need.
massagetherapyfoundation.org: this is the website for the Massage Therapy Foundation. It has some useful links to other sites, including a collection of full text articles about massage, and a tutorial for how to use Pubmed.gov.
IJTMB.org: this is the website of the Massage Therapy Foundation’s open-source online journal, the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. It is a good starting place for the best quality research reports on massage being generated today.
Pubmed.gov: this is a service of the National Library of Medicine. This is an international database of science papers. A tutorial can be helpful, so click the Quick Start Guide button when you begin.
Scholar.google.com: this is a subsection of Google that lists only scholarly articles.

Massage therapy educators have a hard but rewarding job. To do it well, they must stay current with the information they are meant to convey to their students—and this is the basis of the evidence-informed classroom. The sooner our students develop this expectation of staying current, the sooner our whole profession benefits

1. Gladden LB. Lactate metabolism: a new paradigm for the third millennium. J Physiol. 2004 Jul 1;558(Pt 1):5-30. Epub 2004 May 6. Department of Health and Human Performance, 2050 Memorial Coliseum, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849-5323, USA. gladdlb@auburn.edu. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1664920/?tool=pubmed

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