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My View From Here

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCTMB

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If You Bet the Ranch, You Might Just Lose It

Did you know that the effectiveness of massage on muscle tissue is about to be decided? Oh yes, and by real research. Woo-Woo! No wait, woo-woo wouldn't be real research, or would it? It certainly is in the case of the pseudo-science of meteorology. Of course, we all know by now (because we've been told) that research is the only way to the "truth" of something. (Except in the pseudo-science of meteorology!)

If it can't be measured and proven by a double blind controlled study, then it is poppycock or that dreaded anecdotal evidence over thousands of years, which of course means nothing because the research cartel didn't make any money off of it. Or worse, the anecdotal evidence contradicts the "Central Dogma" or a cash flow.

But fear not – athletic trainers at the University of Kentucky have set out to prove whether or not massage is effective on muscle tissue. So, true to form, the ATC's at UK have built (or had built for them) a fascinating machine to do "massage" on muscles. They are really excited to finally be able to prove whether massage works or not and feel their research will shed light on whether massage can speed up muscle repair after exercise or injury. This could be huge. Rock-on, UK!

But wait, if they prove that the machine's roller running over the skin covering a muscle does speed up muscle repair, have they validated massage? Not at all, they have validated a roller machine. Do you think this study might cause more people with muscle injuries to be prescribed massage therapy? More likely, the company that built this machine, or (if built by the University's fabrication department) some company who does build machines and gets or buys the rights will be endorsed and machines will be used for the therapy. After all, that is all that was validated by the research.

massage - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The beloved "evidence" would be that the machine achieved "X" and the hands-on massage therapist (you) might get some "trickle down" if the research is positive for massage. What if the massage machine doesn't make a positive difference? I can guarantee you massage will be discredited and the media hype will be huge.

Will this research prove anything about the effectiveness of manual massage done by a trained human? Not really. Their little roller machine might come close to duplicating the effect on tissue of a small hand doing effleurage ... oh, excuse me a gliding stroke. If they have gotten fancy, it might have some ability to approximate vibration. But it will not tell if deep friction, petrissage, sustained/static pressure and all the combinations of strokes, movements, stretching, etc. have a positive effect or not.

Further, part of massage, a very important part by the way, is the interaction between the therapist and the patient. That dreaded interaction that research has such a time with. That transference of "energy" that the evidence based crowd so despises which occurs in a massage. That interaction, that adaptability, that constant interaction with the patient's tissues that a skilled therapist does naturally, and that poorly trained therapists seldom figure out as they push oil around. A very real problem with massage research is – what skill level of therapist is doing the researched massage? What good is research that proves a highly skilled therapist can accomplish "x" with massage and then the majority of practicing therapists cannot duplicate it? Likewise, if a study is done using inexperienced therapists or perhaps students, the results could sell the potential of massage short.

Am I against research? Absolutely not. I am a founding member of the Massage Therapy Foundation and have contributed to their research efforts. I am fascinated by research and there is a lot to be gained by it. However, those who are betting the ranch on massage becoming validated by research and thus "accepted" by the allopathic cartel (that's MD's and hospitals) are going to lose the ranch. It is the public we need to reach and be accepted by. It is their demand that might get us into the allopathic system. They are much more impressed and responsive to testimonials of success and how massage can benefit them than they are of research proving some minutiae.

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