Research and Resources for Massage Therapy and Bodywork Professionals

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Towards an Evidence-Based Massage and Bodywork Practice

Links to resources for body-workers. Towards encouraging evidence-based massage therapy and bodywork practices: find research information, look up topics such as contraindications and indications and learn how to set up your case study.

Guide Index:

What is this page, who am I and who is this for…

My name is Arlene Haessler, I have been a massage therapist in the Florida Keys and Key West since 1996. I completed certification as an Anatomy Trains Structural Integration Certification in June of 2012, and thoroughly love the work I do. However, I decided to follow through on a lifelong dream and return to graduate school. I attended the University of South Florida Master’s in Library and Information Science program (online while I continued to work in Key West) graduating in August of 2017. Initially, I thought I was making a 180-degree turn from massage therapy but then I realized that the skills I am learning in this program could make a useful contribution to improving evidence-based practice, critical thinking skills and information literacy in the massage community. This incomplete collection began as a result of that realization.

What is evidence-based practice and why is it important to massage and bodywork professionals? For many years massage therapists and other bodywork professionals have worked to gain more respect for our work within the established medical community. To best do that we must individually and collectively represent our profession by understanding what research is, what it says about what we do and how the work we do fits into the overall body of health and medical care and research.

As a profession, we can contribute to the research discussion and some of us can even participate in the research process. If you are lucky enough to be near a research institution that is willing to do research in massage therapy then go for it! This guide will help you understand some of the things researchers already know and how to get started. If you are in a rural area or unsure where to start, you can begin by doing something called a Case Study.

Explore this guide and feel free to ask questions and offer feedback.

Thank you, Arlene

Massage Therapist Information and Research Skills Survey

This link below is to a survey created to get a general idea regarding the massage therapy community thoughts and ideas on health information and research literacy. It is a work in progress as of 10/10/2016 and this section will be updated in the future. Until then please send your comments to

Survey in Google Forms

Related links

Why Research? And what are Case Studies?

  • How Do We Talk About Research?
    Research is an important part of building a solid foundation for the massage therapy profession, and massage therapists should know how to talk about research studies and their results. How can massage therapists discuss research with clients, both current and potential, other health care professionals and with colleagues?
    April 29, 2014
  • The Case For Evidence-Based Practice AMTA
    An article from the American Massage Therapy Association by
    Cynthia Piltch, Ph.D., MPH, CMT, RMT
    Martha Brown Menard, Ph.D., CMT
    March 21, 2009
    References: Finch P. The evidence funnel: highlighting the importance of research literacy in the delivery of evidence-informed health care. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2007 Jan;11(1):78–81.Hill AB. The clinical trial. N Engl J Med. 1952 Jul;247(4):113–19.Sackett DL, Rosenberg WM, Gray JA, et al. (1996). Evidence-based medicine: what it is and what it isn’t. BMJ. 1996 Jan 13;312(7023): 71–2.
  • Download two PDF guides
    Improve Lessons with Case Studies
    Instructor: Susan Salvo gave a talk at the AMTA Schools Summit.
    While this was intended for Massage Therapy School instructors it is still informative. So download the two files plus there are a lot of other useful resources as well.
  • Guide to writing a case study: Colorado State University
    A wonderful guide to writing a case study from the Writing Studio at Colorado State.
  • How to Write a Case Study Paper
    A guide from Pasadena City College Health Sciences Department with a PDF link to a sample Nursing paper you can download. While the nursing focus is probably more medically oriented it can still offer us some useful guidelines and inspiration.

The Research Process

How to Start

Oftentimes, when a researcher is interested in a particular topic, they do what is called a literature review. What that means is that your first step would be to find research sources: articles, books, and websites with information about your topic. This can be the hardest part or the simplest.

Sometimes your topic is very specific. For example, you get a new client with a condition and you are not sure what the contraindications and the benefits of massage will be for that individual. So your search may be “massage therapy” AND “multiple sclerosis” in a database such as Pubmed. We will look more at databases and information sources as well as how to conduct a search elsewhere.

Other times you may have a vague curiosity regarding a topic and so you may do a more general search on your idea or theory. So sometimes your interest is not so easily defined and you must create a search strategy. Each resource and database will have guidelines for how to search. It isn’t always as simple as going to Google and typing in a query. In this case, I will go into more detail with each listing.

Systematic Reviews and Evidence-Based Practice

  • Pubmed-The basic principles of evidence-based medicine
    A discussion of the experimental method and its importance in health care.
  • Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
    “The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) is the leading resource for systematic reviews in health care. The CDSR includes Cochrane Reviews (the systematic reviews) and protocols for Cochrane Reviews as well as editorials.”

Related links

  • Evidence-Based Healthcare Resources (needs updating)

Organizing with Web-Based Resources

While using technology for web-based research may be a no brainer for some of us, for others it is completely foreign. I started this program after being out of school for a very long time and I am amazed by the tools and resources available to students now. If you are going to take the time to do a detailed search on a topic it is important that you know how to save your search results. If you are dedicated enough to undertake writing a case study, you must also know how to cite the sources of any research articles you may have used in planning and implementing your study. Well, there are now easy web-based tools for managing all of that and some of them are even free! Below are two that are free and both of them have features that will create your bibliography for you in the format you choose.

  • Zotero
    A free resource that you download and use with your browser. I haven’t used it because I have Refworks free with USF but it looks like it could be even better so I may try it. It does have an upgrade storage feature so that means if you use it a lot you may have to pay.
    Both Zotero and Mendeley have apps that you can download on your phone or tablet which is something Refworks doesn’t have.
  • Mendeley
    Another web-based reference manager that is free but will have charges if you go over cloud-based storage amounts. I decided to try Mendeley because it is so much prettier than Refworks. I will let you know if all that beauty has some substance behind it!
    update 10/8/15: Well, Mendeley has apps for mobile devices that sync and all of the articles are there as well. I love this because if I am at work with time on my hands when someone cancels, I can pull up the app and read some articles I have saved. Sadly, I have yet to get it to work with Word (it is supposed to create citations and bibliographies right in my paper in Word) and now I also no longer have access to Refwork’s Write n Cite which was working before. What that means is that I have to create my bibliography/references separately and have to do my own citations in the paper. Which isn’t a problem yet but will be with some of those bigger papers
    Both Zotero and Mendeley have apps that you can download on your phone or tablet.

Where to Search

Resources, Books, Journals and Databases

Useful Books and Articles

Making Sense of Research by Martha Brown Menard, Phd., CMT is an excellent place to start your process. Research and Information Literacy is mandatory in any evidence-based practice

Coming Together an article in May, 2012 issue of Massage Therapy Journal published by the American Massage Therapy Association

Massage Therapy Research, Tiffany Field, Ph.D.

Databases versus Search Engines (think Google): Why Does it Matter?

As a future and now current librarian one of the biggest falacies out there is why do you need a librarian when you can just “Google” it? The most important reason is the simple fact, “Googling” it is not the same as using a database and will not provide the best sources (depending on your goals) and librarians know this. They also know where to go for what you need as well as how to get around in various “Databases.”

So what is the difference? A Database is a collection of data, such as citations to journal articles, organized around a subject and these contents are mediated or vetted for quality in some way, usually by some type of librarian or other information professional. Search engines search everything; databases search what they are designed to search. Below are some examples of databases available to anyone to search, though any published articles may be behind a paywall. A librarian, even at a public library, may be able to assist you to access articles you would like.

  • PubMed recently changed the interface as well as how to set up a MYNCBI account to save your searches and get alerts. Again, a librarian should be able to assist you if you need.
  • This site offers information on using PubMed:
  • Also this link:
  • Setting up an MyNCBI account to save searches and more:
    This is where you can find information about publicly and privately funded Human Clinical Trials. Make sure to look for the links to trials that say “Has Results”
  • The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) is the leading resource for systematic reviews in health care. The CDSR includes Cochrane Reviews (the systematic reviews) and protocols for Cochrane Reviews as well as editorials. The CDSR also has occasional supplements. The CDSR is updated regularly as Cochrane Reviews are published ‘when ready’ and form monthly issues; see publication schedule.”

Search Strategy

  • Medical Subject Headings (MESH) Video
    The National Library of Medicine has a variety of resources available. This 11-minute video explains how articles are indexed in Pubmed and related databases using the MESH terms.

Literature Review

Additional Evidence-Based Practice Resources

Resources for Evidence-Based Practice

The Harvey Cushing/John HayWhitney Medical School Library at Yale University offers detailed guides to evidence-based practice resources:

Tags: #medical libraries, #research, #researchhelp, evaluating resources, evidence based medicine, evidence based practice, health, health and wellness, health information, health literacy, massage, massage therapy, research literacy

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