Physicians across the globe increasingly recommend massage therapy to their patients. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service covers 80-100% of massage therapy costs for patients with certain conditions. Here in the United States, over 65% of doctors refer patients who seek information about massage recommend this complementary treatment and refer them to massage therapists.
Medical researchers at top schools nationwide have gathered a growing body of evidence that massage therapy benefits patients with a wide range of symptoms and conditions. People increasingly turn to massage therapy, one of the top 5 complementary therapies in the United States, and about 18 million patients in the United States report using massage therapy.
Many college and university medical schools today support professors and faculty researchers who study the mechanisms and effects of massage therapy. Among them are the following individuals:
- Tiffany Field, PhD
For over 30 years, the University of Miami has set the standard for U.S. massage therapy research. In 1992, Dr. Field founded the Touch Research Institute, which employs researchers from top universities like Harvard, Maryland, and Yale. The first of its kind in the world, this organization studies massage therapy’s many applications in science and medicine, as well as its profound health and wellness benefits.
In 2016, Dr. Field (along with colleagues from the Touch Research Institute and the Children’s’ Hospital of Philadelphia) researched the effect of mother to infant massage on sleep quality for both babies and mothers. These experts discovered that a simple 15-minute oil massage before bed led to better sleep for mothers and babies (compared to no-oil massages and a control group that didn’t engage in massage therapy). In a similar 2010 study, Dr. Field and her colleagues discovered preterm babies gained weight faster and increased their bone density when their mothers massaged them with oil.
- Maria Hernandez-Reif, PhD
A faculty member at the University of Alabama, Dr. Hernandez-Reif frequently shares her expertise in developmental, cognitive, and behavioral psychology with the Touch Research Institute. An expert in the psychology of infant diet and digestion, she has contributed to many studies involving massage therapy and pediatric care (and over 160 publications, in total).
Dr. Hernandez-Reif has helped the Touch Research Institute identify and optimize specific massage therapy techniques to promote infant health, such as oil massage and moderate (vs. light) pressure.
- Miguel Diego, PhD
A pediatric specialist at the University of Miami, Dr. Diego has worked on over 125 research projects. In addition to studying the effects of massage therapy on infants, he has studied the use of massage therapy to treat arthritis pain in the hands, neck, and knees. Dr. Diego studies the psychological effects of complementary therapies like massage therapy, yoga, and tai chi on mothers with postpartum depression and their infants. He has collaborated with Dr. Field on many Touch Research Institute studies.
- Marlaine Smith, PhD
Dr. Smith serves as the Dean of the Florida Atlantic University College of Nursing. As a registered nurse and a professor, she has worked to expand the theory of nursing and increase the body of knowledge about massage therapy in nursing environments. She studies many holistic healing methods, such as touch therapy, reiki, and jin shin, among others.
At the University of Colorado School of Nursing, Dr. Smith leads research teams in foundational studies of massage therapies in hospital settings. She discovered that massage therapy facilitated patients’ recovery times, mobility, and energy. When working with cancer patients, Dr. Smith and her colleagues learned massage therapy reduces pain, increases sleep quality, soothes anxiety, and improves distressing symptoms.
- Justin Crane, PhD
As a doctoral researcher at Canada’s McMaster University Department of Kinesiology, Dr. Crane led a study (arranged by Dr. Melov) into the biochemical mechanisms of massage. With his colleagues, he showed that massage therapy reduced inflammation in young men with muscle damage caused by exercise.
More importantly, Dr. Crane’s team discovered why muscle injury patients benefitted from massage treatments on a cellular level. They found that massage therapy helps people with skeletal muscle injuries by:
- Triggering mitochondrial biogenesis (cellular repair and growth)
- Reducing inflammatory cytokines in muscle cells
- Decreasing heat shock protein phosphorylation
- Mitigating cellular stress from myofiber injuries
Dr. Crane currently studies the cellular biochemistry of aging at Boston’s Northeastern University. He focuses on the skin, muscle, and connective tissues targeted for healing by massage therapists.
- Simon Melov, PhD
Dr. Melov earned his doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of London. Before he and his colleagues founded the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in 1999, he worked at Emory University and the University of Colorado.
In collaboration with Dr. Crane’s McMaster research team, Dr. Melov and his colleague Alan Hubbard studied the cellular and biochemical foundations of massage for skeletal muscle patients. He highlighted massage therapy’s potential to reduce inflammation and promote healing as well as the possibility it could target the same cellular mechanisms as prescription painkillers.
- Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD
Dr. Tarnopolsky serves as the Director of McMaster University’s Neuromuscular and Neurometabolic Clinic and the CEO of the Exerkine corporation. He has published over 390 scholarly articles in his quest to heal people with symptoms of neuromuscular ailments and aging.
As a professor at McMaster University’s Department of Pediatrics and Medicine, Dr. Tarnopolsky oversaw Dr. Crane’s study. He stated that massage therapy can benefit patients dealing with the effects of aging, musculoskeletal injuries, and inflammatory diseases.
- Adam Perlman, MD, MPH
Dr. Perlman, the Executive Director of Duke Integrative Medicine, works with students as an Associate Professor of Medicine. In addition to performing many leadership roles in the complementary therapy academic community, he continues to research the efficacy of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments.
Recently, Dr. Perlman received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the use of massage therapy for osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. Not only did his research team find that massage therapy decreased pain and increased range of motion, they also optimized the treatment protocol for this disease. They determined an hour of massage therapy each week was the best application of massage therapy treatments for OA patients.
A Wealth of Scientific Knowledge
Though countries like Russia have a long history of medical research into massage therapy, U.S. scientists have begun to close the gap. In recent decades, experts at many universities across the nation have dedicated their careers to proving the efficacy and multiple benefits of massage therapy.
Ask your physician how you can use massage therapy as part of your treatment plan. This popular complementary therapy offers pain relief, healing, and many other benefits, and it may ultimately reduce your need for prescription drugs.
- American Massage Therapy Association. (2016). Industry fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/infocenter/economic_industry-fact-sheet.html
- Coleman, N. (n.d.). Why you could get alternative treatment on the NHS. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-55405/Why-alternative-treatment-NHS.html#top
- Duke Integrative Medicine. (n.d.). Adam Perlman, MD, MPH. Retrieved from https://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/about/meet-the-team/adam-perlman-md-mph-facp-2/
- Field, T., Diego, M., & Hernandez-Reif, M. (2010). Preterm infant massage therapy research: a review. Infant behavior and development, 2010, 33(2), 115–124. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.12.004
- Field, T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M., Deeds, O., & Figuereido, B. (2006). Moderate versus light pressure massage therapy leads to greater weight gain in preterm infants. Infant behavior and development, 29(4), 574–578. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2006.07.011
- Field, T., Gonzalez, G., Diego, M., & Mindell, J. (2016). Mothers massaging their newborns with lotion versus no lotion enhances mothers’ and newborns’ sleep. Infant behavior and development, 45a, 31-37.
- Florida Atlantic University. (n.d.). Biography: Marlaine Smith. Retrieved from http://nursing.fau.edu/directory/smith/index.php
- McMaster University. (2012). Massage is promising for muscle recovery: McMaster researchers find 10 minutes reduces inflammation. Retrieved from https://fhs.mcmaster.ca/main/news/news_2012/massage_therapy_study.html
- Melov, S. (2013). Identifying molecular hallmarks of aging to guide the development of anti-aging therapies. Retrieved from http://www.buckinstitute.org/melovLab
- Crane, J., Ogborn, D., Cupido, C., Melov, S., Hubbard, A., Bourgeois, J., &
- Tarnopolsky, M. (2012). Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage. Science translational medicine, 4(119).
- ResearchGate. (2015). Profile: Maria Hernandez-Reif. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Maria_Hernandez-Reif
- Perlman, A., Ali A, Njike, V., Hom, D., Davidi, A., Gould-Fogerite, S., … Katz, D. (2012) Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized dose-finding trial. PLoS one, 7(2). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030248
- Science Daily. (2012). Massage reduces inflammation and promotes growth of new mitochondria following strenuous exercise, study finds. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120201141710.htm
- Smith, M., Stallings, M., Mariner, S., & Burrall, M. (1999). Benefits of massage therapy for hospitalized patients: a descriptive and qualitative evaluation. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 5(4), 64-71.
- Smith, M., Kemp, J., Hemphill, L., & Vojir, C. (2002). Outcomes of therapeutic massage for hospitalized cancer patients. Journal of nursing scholarship, 34(3), 257-62.
- Touch Research Institute. (n.d.). History of the touch research institute. Retrieved from https://www6.miami.edu/touch-research/About.html
- University of Miami. (2016). Research Profiles: Miguel A. Diego. Retrieved from https://miami.pure.elsevier.com/en/persons/miguel-a-diego/publications
- University of Miami Health System. (2017). Profile – Tiffany M. Field. Retrieved from http://uhealthsystem.com/researchers/profile/2581
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