Best Research Resources for Massage Therapists

We often hear about the benefits of massage, but we less frequently hear about its limitations. We are also often told to beware of charlatans, without any explanation of what that means. Furthermore, regulatory bodies are charged with protecting the public, but what does the public need protecting from when it comes to a massage?
These are just some of the questions that a growing field of research is tackling at this very moment. Therapeutic massage and bodywork is now an established field of research with dedicated funding, researchers, and many venues and channels for dissemination of research.
Diving into research doesn’t have to be a daunting task. We’ve put together a list of trusted and reliable resources to help you stay up-to-date on the latest research conducted in the field of massage therapy.


AQTN’S Literary Review Compilation on Massage Therapy Based on the Scientific Literature

This literary review has done all the research and hard work for you! The free downloadable PDF from AQTN (Association du Québec des Thérapeutes Naturels or Quebec Association of Natural Therapists) presents a scientific literary review compilation on massage therapy. Starting from over 1,000 pages of top quality medical articles, it is synthesized into 132 pages and subsequently summarized into approximately 30 pages.

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All articles are referenced with titles and full text sources should you want to read the 1,000 pages of medical language. There is full transparency with citation of sources and links to those sources so you can read the full study for yourself.

Download the review: It’s one of the most comprehensive reviews of the medical research on massage therapy out there and we would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Other great literature reviews you’ll find at AQTN include Reflexology Literary Review, Homeopathy Scientific Literature Reivew, and Traditional Chinese Medicine Review.

International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork

The International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork: Research, Education, & Practice (IJTMB) takes an open access approach to scholarly publishing, allowing readers free access to articles online. This approach provides for the dissemination of scientific findings not only to professionals in the massage and bodywork field but also to colleagues in associated disciplines and professions.

IJTMB is currently indexed in PubMed Central, Quertle, the Directory of Open Access Journals,CrossRef, HealthIndex, IndexCopernicus, Google Scholar, and Hinari.

There are three principal sections in IJTMB:

  • Research – An opportunity for the dissemination of original quantitative, qualitative, and integrative research papers.
  • Education – A forum for massage and bodywork educators on topics such as curriculum development, instructional design/delivery, instructional technology, distance learning, and testing/evaluative procedures.
  • Practice– A venue for practitioners to stay up-to-date on issues such as planning, marketing, managing and evaluating a successful practice; incorporation of new scientific findings and methods into clinical practice; new clinical approaches to prevention and treatment of specific health conditions; and ethical issues.

Read the journal: The first issue launched in August 2008. Access the IJTM here.


Massage Therapy Foundation

mtfThe Massage Therapy Foundation has done so much for the profession through rigorous research. They really believe in the value of research, and you can tell. From their website:

“Rigorous research about massage can challenge tradition, but it strengthens our profession, and provides guidance for massage therapists to be as effective as possible. Since its inception, the Massage Therapy Foundation has funded 39 research projects, with a total of $720,366. Topics have ranged from massage for peripheral neuropathy related to chemotherapy, to postural control of elders, to migraines, cancer, and spinal cord injury. In addition, the Massage Therapy Foundation has consulted on numerous large-scale studies, funded two systematic reviews (one on stress, and one on sports massage), founded and published the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (IJTMB), and hosted three international science conferences on massage therapy research.”

Get involved: Subscribe to their blog and download free resources (or heck, why not donate!) right here.

American Massage Therapy Association

Besides being the single biggest contributor to the Massage Therapy Foundation, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is also actively creating resources for its members to use to promote massage therapy to the public in a scientifically validated way.

AMTA hosts multiple sections on its website develoted to showcasing the research behind massage therapy:

  • Massage as Specific Health Conditions: Clinical research related to numerous health conditions including lower-back pain, breast cancer, heart bypass surgery, migraines, and others.
  • Massage Therapy Research Roundup: Here you can find excellent downloadable PDFs with synopses of the research highlights on massage for numerous conditions such as depression for individuals with HIV, osteoarthritis of the knee, metastatic cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and post-cardiac surgery pain.
  • AMTA Position Statements: One of the most remarkable things AMTA does related to research is make careful and critical examinations of the best research on specific conditions and then make “Position Statements” about how massage therapy can help with those conditions. Because of the rigorous vetting process (which can take years of work by hundreds of AMTA members throughout the United States), these position statements can be viewed as the gold standard of how to accurately speak to the public about the effectiveness of massage therapy. Postions statements exist on the topics of anxiety, sleep, tension headaches, and for multiple other conditions.


Education and Training Solutions

Is your learning style more interactive? You may benefit from the Basics of Research Literacy Course, created by Education and Training Solutions. 

This new resource was born from the partnership of Massage Therapy Foundation and Education and Training Solutions (EdTS). It’s an online continuing education opportunity that allows you to explore building your research literacy skills at your own pace and in your own time. You won’t be reading a document and then taking a test. BRL is a highly interactive skill-building experience that has the capacity to change the way you work.

Even better? It’s an 8-hour NCBTMB-approved online course, so you can earn CE hours at the same time.

Sign-up for the course: EdTS donates a substantial portion of the tuition from this course to the MTF.

Researchers & Authors

Christopher A. Moyer, PhD

As a psychological scientist and leading researcher in the massage therapy field, Moyer has contributed clinical trials and meta-analyses that document the most established effects of massage therapy and also demonstrate the most contentious questions in the field.

Moyer’s work particularly documents the effects of massage therapy for anxiety and depression, which he finds are, “…the most well-established effects in the MT research literature.” As a mind-body specialist, he also innovates the way we think of these disorders in both theory and in practice by calling for a new subfield of massage therapy:  Affective Massage Therapy.

Moyer has also co-authored a meta-review on the benefits of pediatric massage (demonstrating the benefits for trait anxiety, arthritis, and improving muscle tone). This work also sheds light on a cutting-edge question about massage therapy: how do expectations, attitudes, and knowledge about massage therapy affect outcomes? With the case of anxiety, pediatric massage therapy seems to become more effective over time, which points to “experience effects” that help us understand how to maximize the effectiveness of massage therapy itself.

Lastly, Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice, written by authors Christopher Moyer and Trish Dryden, presents research examining the evidence for the use of various massage therapy techniques in treating pathological conditions and special populations. In the book you’ll find a synthesis of information from the diverse fields of kinesiology, medicine, nursing, physical therapy, and psychology.


moyer bookThis is a great resource for students and practitioners who are developing research literacy skills. Get the basics in these areas:

  • Learning the benefits of evidence-based massage therapy practice
  • Understanding various research methods
  • Developing research skills by learning guidelines for writing case reports and journal articles

  • Understanding how to integrate massage therapy research into education

Read it: You can buy the book here or check out one of his most popular articles: A Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy Research.

Karen T. Boulanger, CMT, PhD

karen_boulangerKaren Boulanger is not only a certified massage therapist and leading researcher but is also current Editor-in-Chief of the IJTMB. Her research on the effects of attitudes, beliefs, and expectations on massage therapy is at the leading edge of the field and has direct implications for massage therapy in practice. By understanding how perceptions significantly affect the effectiveness of massage therapy, we stand to improve overall treatment effects in order to maximize beneficial outcomes.

Boulanger has examined how therapists’ beliefs affect their own clinical behavior, as well as how clients’ expectations and beliefs affect their reported outcomes. Her research contributions build upon earlier work by Moyer, which is providing specific evidence to understanding which beliefs, personal characteristics, and behaviors may interfere with or help clients to ultimately get the most from their massage therapy treatments.

Boulanger is also co-author to a recent review of research findings on massage therapy and stress measures, which is a contentious question in the massage therapy field. While stress reduction is a very common reason why individuals report getting a massage, this review shows the limits of our knowledge about how massage therapy and stress are related, highlighting that single treatments drops in salivary cortisol and heart rate are the most consistent effects, while findings on other stress measures are currently inconclusive.

Diana L. Thompson, LMP

Look for Diana Thompson‘s archived January 2010 to May/June 2013 bi-monthly columns “Somatic Research” in ABMP’s Massage and Bodywork Magazine. Thompson is a massage therapist, educator, author, research consultant and volunteer. 

On the topic of research she says, “I believe that research is vital to advancing the massage profession. As a research consultant, my goal is to ensure the massage research protocols represent massage as it is practiced, and that the results provide information useful for massage therapists and our clients.”

hands healThompson has not only documented massage therapy effects but further has done so in order to attain ACA coverage for mental health and rehabilitation. In this respect, she has been instrumental in showing how the link between research and practice is critical to providing individuals with access to affortable and preventative health care options.

Thompson is also a contributor to research, consulting on projects at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Wa. She is an author on the paper titled, Development of a taxonomy to describe massage treatment for musculoskeletal pain, published on BioMedCentral in 2006.

Get the book: She is the author of Hands Heal: Communication, Documentation and Insurance Billing for Manual Therapists

What are your go-to resources for the latest in massage therapy research? Please share in the comments!


Comments from original Massamio post:

Excellent article. Once again Massa Mio gives MTs excellent information. Thank you. — Posted @ Monday, November 18, 2013 8:24 AM by Greg

I’d like to add a few others:  On Facebook:  POEM  Evidence-Based Massage Therapy  Also the website POEM (Project for Open Education in Massage)  I’ve got a few other resources listed on my website. Links are included. Also links to forums for science-based massage therapists. — Posted @ Tuesday, November 19, 2013 12:30 PM by Alice Sanvito, LMT

LOVE LOVE LOVE you folks for printing this and I am sharing it everywhere. Thank you so much. — Posted @ Tuesday, November 19, 2013 2:39 PM by LauraAllenMT

Thanks, Laura & Greg! We appreciate your compliments so very much 🙂 Thanks too, Alice for the extra research resources for massage therapists. — Posted @ Tuesday, November 19, 2013 4:04 PM by Benjamin McDonald