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There’s nothing earth-shaking in the world of massage politics on my radar this week, so I’m just going to make a few observations. I know that I am about to step on more than a few toes here, but it must be said.

I’ve got a few thousand massage therapists in my social networks (FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +). In the mornings, when I’m drinking my coffee, I visit those sites and scroll through to see what people are up to. I like to read that people are having success with their clients, enjoying their work, being active in their communities, growing their businesses, volunteering, and a lot of wonderful things that massage therapists do.

What I don’t like to see is what I call the Snake Oil Medicine Show. There’s a popular band here in NC by that name, so I’m stealing it for this blog. According to Wikipedia: The phrase snake oil is a derogatory term used to describe quackery, the promotion of fraudulent or unproven medical practices. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with questionable and/or unverifiable quality or benefit. By extension, the term “snake oil salesman” may be applied to someone who sells fraudulent goods, or who is a fraud himself.

There are a lot of products (and practices) out there that have no proven benefits at all, and many that have in fact been proven not to have any benefits. Massage therapists seem to be particularly gullible to falling into the trap of not only using them personally, but also promoting them and selling them to their clients. I don’t know the real reason behind this phenomenon, but I can guess at several: 1) The therapist is not interested in scientific evidence and buys into the hype on the product’s website. 2) The therapist is desperately looking for something to bring in additional income. 3) The therapist has a genuine desire to help people, and truly believes the wild claims made by whatever company is selling the product, and thinks that it’s a duty to share it with clients.

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I am interested in the evidence-informed practice of massage, and that I’ve been on a mission to bust the myths of massage. This problem goes beyond that; and if I tried to bust every unscrupulous product out there, I’d never have the time to write about anything else. There are a lot of “quackery” websites on the Internet that have done most of the work for me….if only people would read and believe. But the fact is, you can hit some people over the head with scientific evidence, and they’re not going to believe it. They’re too attached to that “detox” machine, or that dietary supplement, or that special water or whatever it is that they’re selling. Paul Ingraham, one of my favorite writers on the Internet, has written about a lot of these things (see Dr. Stephen Barrett has had his Quackwatch site up for years ( Another favorite of mine is a water myth website, found at  READ MORE...

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Comment by Gordon J. Wallis on July 23, 2012 at 1:25pm

Its hard to tell Snake Oil from non Snake oil... Right now I have $900.00 worth of DVDs on Cranial Laser technique.Hope I didn't get ripped? Haven't decided yet..  Ive purchased thousands of dollars worth of DVDs and books...I cull through them and try to find anything that will help me heal people faster...Ive been ripped off and rewarded...I just got a book CONJUGATE GAZE ADJUSTIVE TECHNIQUE   ..  Its about eye movement and muscle response... interesting....Will I find it useful or not...? Snake Oil?  I will see if I find the information useful....??

Comment by martin rørdam on July 23, 2012 at 9:11am

Thumbs up from Denmark!!

Hope you survive the flame!! ;-)

Martin (in Danish!!)

Comment by Adam Fluke on July 23, 2012 at 8:53am

Massage Therapists need to think of themselves as creating physiological effects through mechanical means. I am not saying that there aren't things out there left to be discovered, or to be closed off to anything, but the burden of evidence needs to be on the extraordinary, not the other way around. There is a ethical principal called the Precautionary Principle that is often used in ecological discussions, it may be relevant here as well.

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