Does Massage Lower Stress Hormones? (For Therapists)

[A simpler article, written for clients, can be found here.]

For a number of years I've followed the research of Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. They've been doing research on touch therapy since 1992 and have been pioneers in the field of massage therapy research in the United States. One of the markers they use in their studies is cortisol, a stress hormone that can be measured in blood, saliva, and urine.

What Is Energy Work: Some Thoughts from an Evidence-Based Therapist

What is energy work? Practitioners of energy work claim there is a subtle human energy field which they can detect with their hands. By placing their hands on or over their subject, they are able to correct imbalances and unblock blocked energy. Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Chakra Balancing, and Polarity Therapy are all various forms of energy work.

There is only one problem: no one has ever actually demonstrated the existence of a human energy field. No one. Ever.

Practitioners of energy work claim to be able to feel a human energy field with their hands. However, under controlled conditions, they fail to demonstrate an ability to do so. The most famous experiment, the Rosa Study, was designed by a nine year old girl who became the youngest person to have a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Simple and elegant in its design, practitioners of Therapeutic Touch sat behind a screen and were tested on whether they could detect the presence of a hand held next to theirs without being able to see the hand. They failed. The study has never been contradicted.

New Massage Education Website: POEM Takes the World of Massage Therapy to a New Level!

The world of therapeutic massage took a giant leap forward today as Ravensara Travillian presented the Project for Open Education in Massage (POEM) to the public. The world of massage therapy will never be the same.

What is POEM?

Impossible to describe in just a few words, POEM is a resource for massage therapists like nothing ever seen before. It is an online gathering place for massage therapists that is intelligent, articulate, and civilized, much like Ravensara herself. It is a resource for learning about the latest research, learning how to read and understand research, learning how to do case studies. Still incomplete and in a testing stage, it will include forums, quizzes, places to pose questions, articles, and educational material, including Raven's book on research literacy for massage therapists. Not only will research papers be presented but also analyzed and critiqued, allowing the massage therapist to learn to evaluate the quality of research. POEM's stated intention is to:

Resources for Science-Based Massage Therapists

Recently, I wrote about the emergence of what has come to be called science based or evidence based massage therapy. At the end of the article, I listed a few online resources for massage therapists interested in keeping up with relevant research. However, there are many, many more resources available. Some are directly devoted to massage therapy. Some are related to massage therapy and other manual therapies. Still others are devoted to pain research, brain research, science, or medicine and may be of interest to massage therapists. In this article, I would like to start a list of what I think are good resources for massage therapists. This list is far from complete and will be updated periodically as I learn of other resources. Please feel free to submit your own favorite internet resources.

Does Massage Make You Taller? It Might!

Clients will often remark after a massage, "I feel taller!" Turns out, it actually may be true.

Two psychology students at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Kim Goral and Meghan Burkett, found that their subjects consistently stood about a half inch taller after massage. (story here) They were conducting a small research project investigating whether there might be a relationship between posture and anxiety.  After massage, the subjects felt less anxious and had improved posture. Although the study only involved two subjects, the results were very consistent. Their advisor,  Christopher Moyer, Ph.D., remarked, "The results are very strongly consistent with the hypothesis that massage therapy reduces anxiety by first altering the recipient’s posture. This would generate neural feedback from the body that would be incompatible with the emotion of anxiety. By standing taller, and having a body that is physically looser, a person's body would actually be telling their mind that 'you can't be anxious because your body is relaxed.'"

Research on Therapeutic Massage and Low Back Pain

NPR (National Public Radio) recently ran a story, "Got Low Back Pain? Massage Therapy May Rub It Out." The story points out that after colds, low back pain is one of the most common complaints seen by doctors. It causes lost time at work and brings misery into many people's lives. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that therapeutic massage may be more effective than conventional treatment for low back pain.

A more detailed analysis of the study written in laymen's terms is available at Of note is that both Swedish massage and structural massage were both effective, with very little difference between them.

What Is Evidence Based Massage Therapy?

If you keep up with the world of therapeutic massage, you will eventually notice that there are some new ideas and terms going around. Evidence based massage. Evidence based practice. Evidence informed practice. Science based medicine. What does it all mean?

True to my commitment to being evidence-based, my thinking about trigger points has changed a bit since I first wrote this article. For now, I'll leave it as it was first written, but some time in the future I'll write about some new information about trigger points that challenges the ideas of Travell and Simons. As a result, my approach has altered a bit and has allowed me to work even more successfully with clients without making them sore like I did in the past! After 22 years in practice, I'm still learning and evolving. I wouldn't have it any other way.

How Often Should You Exercise?

If you want to get and stay fit, how often should you hit the gym? There's good news for those of you who want to exercise but have a hard time working out two or three times a week. Research accumulated over the last ten to twenty years shows that once a week may be enough.

Science writer Paul Ingraham has just published an article on the the subject. He answers the question, "How often should I exercise?" It's easy to read and well researched. I recommend it.

Don't let this be an excuse not to exercise! If anything, it should help you get to the gym knowing that you don't have to hammer away at it as often as we've been led to believe. Get your body moving! It's one of the best things you can do for yourself.