a community of practitioners
The problem with research as a whole is that there are very few original ideas. If you are going to do a study, you need to have 20 other people who did something of the sort before you for you to be considered credible. Now this has something in part to do with the sheer amount of time that it may take to put your desired study together. The testing of your measurement tools alone can take years. Due to this process, some researchers do us all a favor and conduct what is called a literature review.
A literature review is when a research team thins out the huge amount of studies that have been conducted on a particular topic. Before certain organizations stepped in, research tended to be kind of biased, with huge methodological errors. Measures may not have been valid or reliable due to lax testing, people claimed what they wanted to claim, and skewed their research accordingly. Therefore, the present research team throws the methodology of these studies through the academic ringer. They call out those who aren't accurate, and consolidate the data for everyones sake, mostly so when we do want to look at research, we can go in with the metaphorical parental controls already on.
This is a good place to start the actual non-soapboxy segment of this blog, where I talk about the research affecting the massage community. One of the first things that we, as MTs learn is that massage reduces stress. We know this for a fact and there are several physiological signs that prove this. However, when we look at the delicate hormonal balancing act that our body attempts to accomplish despite everything we throw at it, things get a little muddled.
Now If you remember your phys, and I am sure you all do, you will remember that the hormone Cortisol, secreted by the adrenal glands, is the stress hormone. This hormone is the one that puts you into a constant state of inflammation, the one that shuts down your immune system so that you get sick more easily when you are stressed. And of course, this is the dreaded hormone that makes you pack on the pounds (when in a state of stress of course). So if we know that massage reduces stress, and cortisol is produced when your body is under stress, it would make sense that regular massage would reduce the amount of cortisol that is swimming happily around in your bloodstream right?
I guess not actually, it seems that according to a lit review of this very question, the research team found the studies... shall we say, proving that assertion incorrect. Finally, a page of text later and you get to read the very first research bit I am talking about. After vetting a whole bunch of research studies, the review team came to this conclusion
"MT's effect on cortisol is generally very small and, in most cases, not statistically distinguishable from zero. As such, it cannot be the cause of MT's well-established and statistically larger beneficial effects on anxiety, depression, and pain."
So what does this mean for us the practitioners? Well, it could mean nothing, I know my massage reduces stress and no research is going to tell me otherwise! I am kidding of course, as the research junkie I am, I won't let this little fact get past me. What it does mean is that what we do merely lies elsewhere and it is our job to find out what it is. There is never just one answer when it comes to the human body, and this is just one piece of a bigger puzzle. If they want to focus on the hormonal issues associated with massage, perhaps an analysis of adrenaline levels should be in order, or how about *gasp* qualitative research about the persons emotional state before and after the massage? We have eliminated one misconception, but lets focus on what Moyer et. al. claim to be, yet undiscovered causes of Massage Therapys clinical benefits.
This article was found originally on pubmed, (where i find most of my articles). I was lucky enough to get my hands on a hard copy. you can link to the abstract here.
Also, I would like to encourage people to send me requests of things they want to hear about. I am sure my preferences will get dry and boring after a while.
I know it's about 1 am where I am now, but I think I will go email my phys teacher with this article and let her know she was wrong. I know she will be understanding, and thank me for gently correcting her.