The morass of misinformation

The massage industry is famous for sweeping statements, exaggerations and anecdotal stories. Many times during our formative years at massage school we are taught by ‘the guru’ whose word is believed and remains unaltered for years. I once had a teacher who told us that pulling the hair and twisting it one direction added tension to the follicle and twisting it the other way took the tension out.

The focus at the recent 50th birthday Massachusetts AMTA conference was research. Ruth Werner, Diana Thompson, Angie Palmier, Chris Alverado and others talked and walked us through the pathways to obtaining valid and proven information regarding evidence-based benefits of massage.

First off, there are the common myths that have been handed down and repeated so many times that they have become solid facts (sounds like politicians and WMD, doesn’t it?). Some of the old chestnuts concern lactic acid. Long after it has been known that lactic acid reduces to normal in the blood within minutes of stopping exercise all by itself, massage therapists (and teachers, eh Aaron) still write about removing it hours (days) later during a sports massage or stretch.

Another myth concerns the circulatory response. Find me a study that shows massage improves circulation. Is this arterial, venous, capillary or lymphatic circulation? We need to distinguish. If we use efflurage (which always directs strokes toward the heart) then this is contra-arterial? Is this even a word? I have in my possession a published study that disproves any circulatory response. What about ‘massage can spread cancer’. Says who? Massage can cause a miscarriage in the first trimester. Really?  Massage decreases cortisol levels. Better watch out for that one too. Drink water after a massage to flush the toxins? Hmmm. Proof please. On the subject of water how much water should we drink? The magical 8 glasses, but why not 7 or 9. Beer, tea or soup? You get my drift.

Let’s get real. Most of the positive outcome studies found to promote the benefits of massage center on more affective benefits, i.e. the emotional benefits. Pain is an emotional event and reduction of pain by massage has been documented. Reduction in anxiety, depression and agitated behaviour (these could be combined under the stress umbrella) all have proof. Improvement in self-awareness, flexibility, balance and function are also known. That’s not a bad list, so far.

Is this enough of a list for us to be satisfied with? I think not. The Massage Therapy Foundation is helping coordinate efforts of fundraising, education and promotion of studies that show a benefit from massage. If you want to learn how to write up a proper case study go to their website and download a 30 page document that will guide you through each step. Each year more and more good studies get published.

The Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain is of particular importance to us here at 360NMT. It has the most current papers researching myofascial pain, fibromyalgia and regional pain syndromes. Did you know that a trigger point has now been imaged using vibration sonoelastography by the good people at the NIH in Bethesda? I will be writing much more on this and other topics in order to help us sift through the morass of misinformation.