Beyond "Touch Feels Good"

By Darren Buford
[Editor's Note]

Massage offers such valuable benefits to so many individuals that it’s possible to take it for granted. For many of us, the power of bodywork seems like a given or that it’s simply understood that it yields positive results because it feels good or because you feel relief. “Of course massage helps with my low-back pain!” “Of course massage prepares me for my pre- and postsports event!”
So why is massage research important? For the answer to that question, I went to the source—Ruth Werner. Ruth is the past president of the Massage Therapy Foundation, an organization whose mission is to advance “the knowledge and practice of massage therapy by supporting scientific research, education, and community service.” Ruth is also the author of several textbooks on pathology used worldwide for massage education.

Q: Darren Buford
Why is research for massage and bodywork so important?

A: Ruth Werner
A lot of massage and bodywork has evolved out of ancient traditions that build on our experience that touch feels good. It might seem redundant or unnecessary to do high-level research to confirm this basic truth. But research that looks carefully at massage therapy can help us understand how it works, and for whom, and what circumstances are likely to give the best results.
Research can help massage therapists be more effective and more accurate—if we know the evidence shows that massage for an hour once a week helps people with knee pain from osteoarthritis (and a study has indeed determined that this is the optimal dose), then we can make that claim and know that research backs it up.
Research allows us to question some traditions that have not served us well. For instance, we used to assume that massage would speed up the process of cancer development, so we were taught, “Massage and cancer don’t go in the same sentence.” When some brave researchers challenged that assumption, we learned that massage therapy has many benefits to offer cancer patients, and many people find that their journey through this condition is made easier because they can receive appropriate, safe, educated massage in this context—something that would have been impossible without research.
Research can also help us avoid making mistakes or making false claims.  
And finally, research helps massage therapists and bodywork practitioners build working relationships with other health-care providers; it is the language every person in the medical field uses. When we are able to integrate with your health-care team, you get the best possible outcomes massage therapy can offer.

We hope you enjoy this issue of Body Sense magazine dedicated to the value of massage therapy research.

Body Sense Editor Darren Buford