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Massage Abstracts / Studies
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Massage Quackery

Accusations of Quackery in Therapeutic Massage

What Exactly Is Quackery?

According to Wikipedia, quackery is, "... a derogatory term used to describe the promotion[1] of unproven or fraudulent medical practices."

Random House Dictionary describes a "quack" as a "fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill" or "a person who pretends, professionally or publicly, to have skill, knowledge, or qualifications he or she does not possess; a charlatan."[2]

Most of us can recall random news stories over the years of fake ‘doctors', individuals with no training posing as MDs, administering bogus medical treatments. But how exactly does quackery relate to Massage Therapy? Some medical professionals, as well as educators, make claims, both online and in ‘the real world', that massage therapy is, in fact, fraught with quackery.

In an attempt to ‘protect the public', some of these figures have crusaded against Massage Therapy, trying to sway readers (or paying seminar attendees) to consider a massage therapist a quack if she makes any claims regarding massage therapy's efficacy with regard to helping the symptoms of any condition. As it is not the role of a Massage Therapist to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, we must agree that any Massage Therapist making such claims outright, or suggesting such, is likely overstepping her bounds. Even so, there are already government agencies, such as the FDA, here to protect us from unsubstantiated claims.

The FDA, or US Food & Drug Adminstration, approves all drugs and medical devices that can be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. Even if results from numerous studies show positive results with Massage Therapy, it is still illegal for a Massage Therapist to make such claims about Therapeutic Massage, as such claims must be validated, and approved, by the FDA. So, when skeptical minds implore us to consider that Massage Therapy cannot "...diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease,' they are correct.

However, that only means that the FDA has not yet determined if such claims are true, and not that the FDA has investigated and found Massage Therapy to be a spurious therapy. Of course, any Massage Therapist claiming to "cure disease" is going well beyond what she was taught in Massage School; massage therapists can refer a client to a doctor based on what is seen and felt during a session, but a Massage Therapist cannot claim to do what doctors do.

As of now, with the current state of research, the FDA permits certain vitamin claims, such as folic acid as being able to prevent spinal bifida in the fetus. The FDA also proposed permitting Calcium and Vitamin D claims with regard to Osteoporosis. Before the FDA concluded that such claims were OK, these vitamins were still capable of affecting such change.

Even so, in the interest of protecting the public from untested, unverified treatments, until the research available was conclusive, claims like these were not permitted. It would have been irresponsible, and obviously illegal, for manufacturers to have made such claims prior to FDA approval. Massage Therapy may one day be approved as a treatment for specific conditions. But until that day comes, clients will have to research the possibilities for themselves, using available Study Abstracts as the starting point for further learning.

According to skeptics, massage therapy can only help a person to relax. And while it is true that at present, massage therapists cannot legally make ANY claims that Massage Therapy is intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, that doesn't mean that there's definitive proof that massage cannot help anything. Actually, many studies suggest that further research is warranted, as data shows that Massage Therapy looks promising.

An Examination of the Arguments Presented

While such efforts seem noble, closer examination reveals serious misdirection. Are we being protected or are skeptics stifling the atmosphere of Scientific Objectivity and consequently inhibiting Discovery, thereby actually doing us more harm than good? Let's examine a few of the more common arguments one may find on the web and in real-world discussion, and respond meaningfully:

"Massage can help you relax. But there's no proof massage can treat any illness or help prevent future health issues of any sort. It's quackery and a fraud to claim massage therapy can help with anything besides relaxation."

While we can all agree that massage helps some people relax, there is no real agreement as whether massage therapy can confer any significant healing benefits to clients.

Is this because Massage Therapy is an unproven discipline, a fringe ‘New Age' pseudoscience, or because many individuals, including many medical professionals, lack of thorough knowledge of current university research on the topic of massage therapy and and how it affects the body and mind?

There is a definitive answer; the topic is no longer open to debate. For a long time, there just wasn't any research to support any claims regarding massage therapy. But in recent decades as massage has made an inroads into American life, moving from the exotic to the common, more and more studies are being conducted in this infant field of medical research.

In fact, so many studies have been conducted at top US (and international) universities PROVING massage therapy looks to be an effective treatment for a variety of conditions, we must conclude that anyone making such claims against massage therapy is clearly not in the know. It is not fantasy to consider that one day, Massage Therapy WILL be considered treatment for various conditions. Current research seems to show that massage may prove worthy of serious investigation. CLICK HERE TO LINK TO OUR MASSAGE STUDIES RESOURCE PAGE.

Before the era of gas chromatography, modern molecular biology, and advanced university research, all that we had to go on for millennia were anecdotal accounts of how massage seemed to affect human health. Clinical trials were still just a dream from a yet unborn future world.

As such accounts were the results of generations of the practice of massage, the results of their experimentation were carefully noted and transmitted generation to generation. This trial-and-error process represents an informal ongoing experiment (albeit not controlled) involving perhaps ten of thousands (or more) of human volunteers over the span of human history.

Of course, anecdotal accounts are not quite the same as controlled university studies, and are (quite understandably) not afforded the same respect as actual scientific studies, abstracts published in respected medical (and other professional and scientific) journals. Anecdotal benefits of traditional massage techniques are good starting point for choosing a direction in more extensive clinical research. But now the clinical research is here. Massage Therapy can help in many ways, and as time goes on, surely we'll learn many more ways.

"Massage is just a placebo. Nothing is happening beyond the power of suggestion."

While this may seem reasonable at first glance, upon further consideration, we must admit that for clients to (nearly) universally report positive changes, the power of suggestion must not be what's operating here. Most are not quite so susceptible to the power of suggestion, and likewise, many new clients have no idea what to expect, and end up experiencing the same benefits. Also, what therapist have you ever gone to who tells her clients that they will ‘relax' or ‘feel better' after the session?! That just seems weird. And of course, some clients are extremely reluctant due to skepticism, only to find that massage helps when friends get them to try masage therapy at an event where chair massage is provided.

Further, as stated above, studies performed by university researchers have proved, beyond any doubt, that massage therapy is capable of modulating the body's processes, helping with a variety of health conditions and ailments. Massage Therapy perfroms better than placebo, consistently. CLICK HERE TO LINK TO OUR MASSAGE STUDIES RESOURCE PAGE.

"Massage can't possibly lower blood pressure- only doctor-prescribed drugs can do this."

It does seem strange that someone manipulating the soft tissues of the body can help your blood pressure to decrease. But then it also seems strange that relaxation techniques can do the same, or that learning coping mechanisms from a therapist can likewise help. We are just too accustomed to thinking that a ‘cure' must come from a pill.

We are perpetually looking for the ‘quick-fix', the ‘instant cure'. Even FDA-approved pharmaceuticals don't do this; drugs take time to affect change. In our conception of the present-as-future, images from The Jetsons® and other depictions of utopian life on Earth crowd our consciousness. We are just too busy to bother with anything other than taking pills; we've become so accustomed to popping a pill that it seems odd and foreign that anything else should be helpful.

Actually, studies prove massage therapy as an effective means of helping to lower blood pressure. Anyone claiming this is clearly not knowledgeable about current research. CLICK HERE TO LINK TO OUR MASSAGE STUDIES RESOURCE PAGE.

"Anything with so many various claims cannot possibly be anything but a scam for the unwitting."

Who would ever have thought that Aspirin could have so many benefits, being a simple modified compound first derived from the Willow tree? But those benefits are real. Thinking ‘It's too good to be true' is not a scientific approach.

Admittedly, our intrinsically survival-oriented human nature tends to be wary of claims that seem too stupendous, but sometime such claims aren't even the full story. With Aspirin, over time, we've learned many more uses for the drug than could have been initially postulated, the state of other medical sciences at the time being less advanced.

With Massage Therapy, new studies are proving all sorts of ways that Massage Therapy can help a variety of conditions. These (proven) claims already number in the a range that would cause most to instantly think ‘scam', however the research is there and fully supports these claims. CLICK HERE TO LINK TO OUR MASSAGE STUDIES RESOURCE PAGE.

"Aromatherapy oils smell good, but they can't possibly influence anything health-wise."

Not everyone agrees that Aromatherapy Oils have pleasant aromas, but studies have shown that Aromatherapy can effect change in a client. It does seem strange that the essential oils of plants should be able to do anything when applied to the skin or breathed in by air diffusion. Even so, the evidence remains: Aromatherapy is valid, and works. CLICK HERE TO LINK TO OUR MASSAGE STUDIES RESOURCE PAGE.

"Aromatherapy Essential Oils do not really contain naturally-occurring hormones, antibiotics, or antiseptic chemicals. That's just nonsense and a claim of charlatans."

Many plants have been extensively studies since the 1990s, and the knowledge base about which phytochemicals are in each plant has grown with time. All sorts of hormones, antioxidants, antibiotics, antiseptics, and anti-inflammatory compounds have been identified in the world's plant kingdom. How could pharmeceuticals (that are derived from plant phtuochemicals) do ANYthing in the body if the same chemical, containe in essential oil, has no effect? That just makes no sense at all.

If Essential Oils contain concentrates of such chemicals, it is not surprising that observable effects have been reported when applied to a client's skin. After all, many of our pharmaceutical are plant-derived. Some pharmaceuticals are topical and work by skin application. Essential Oils containing naturally-ocurring toxins can poison even by dermal application; are notions that nontoxic essential oils can help really then be consideredd so farfetched and outlandish?

"Massage Therapists aren't trained. They don't really know what they're doing. They go to school, watch a video, and take an easy 50 question test"

Most states in the US require extensive training. The National Certification Board requires 600 hours of classroom learning. The coursework consists of such topics as Pathology, Modalities, Detailed Knowledge of Anatomy, Physiology and Kinesiology, Professional Standards, Ethics, Business and Legal Practices, General Knowledge of Body Systems, Therapeutic Massage assessment, and Therapeutic Massage Application. In addition to that, students are required to complete hands-on practical training as well. State licensure is often even more stringent.

"Most Massage Practioners have only a year of experience. Why? Massage is a scam. They pay to go to school, but no one really gets massage therapy so they all end up quitting. So they never really end up with any experience."

While it is true that the majority of massage therapists only practice for a few years, this may be true of graduates of other disciplines as well. Massage Therapy takes a lot of commitment on the part of the therapist. It is exerting work, and oftentimes, would-be therapists cannot even find work. Our therapists at Mountainside On-Site Massage Therapy are experienced, with an average of over ten years, as are therapists of most reputable mobile and spa massage places.

"The most massage can do is help you feel better, if your muscles are sore. That's it. Anything else is quackery."

An unscientific statement, more opinion than fact. In light of scientific evidence proving otherwise, to hold onto such thoughts as ‘bedrock truths' seems to be a willful clinging to falsehood. Or, it's simply due to ignorance of fact. Remember, until fairly recently, the research just hadn't been done. You can't blame your internist who is thirty years your senior for not knowing that Massage Therapy has been proven to benefit clients in a number of ways. When he went to medical school, that data was not yet available.

"Massage Therapists really wanted to be doctors, but were too lazy or dumb to go to medical school. Many are really poorly educated. Therapists don't' even go to college. "

Many Massage Therapists have university degrees in other fields, and likewise have a history of work experience in the professional world. Many Massage Therapists come to the field after having rewarding professional careers. They have chosen massage therapy because of interest, not a lack of aptitude or ability barring them from Medical School. Doctors don't perform massage, they diagnose, and treat disease. Totally different career path, totally dissimilar ways of helping people feel better.

If Massage Therapy really did anything, there'd be studies proving it. It's the 21t Century. C'mon."

There are so many studies proving the effectiveness of Massage Therapy, we can't even list them all on this page! Someone saying this is clearly just uninformed, something that is not surprising because few of these Massage Therapy studies have been newsworthy. CLICK HERE TO LINK TO OUR MASSAGE STUDIES RESOURCE PAGE.

"Massage doesn't really help you relax. It's all in your mind."

I suppose some might argue that the entirety of perceived reality is in your mind. : )

But, of course that isn't what skeptics mean when they make such statements. They mean that massage is just producing a placebo effect, that the clients' expectations is coloring the outcome — SIGNIFICANTLY! What contradicts such notions is how most first-timers without any experience with massage, or any knowledge of what massage is like or should feel like afterwards, experience deep relaxation. It is likely not social conditioning either, as massage therapy is known, but not so widely known that it is a topic of polite discussion.

In our own homes and daily lives, we ask our loved ones to massage sore spots. Can anyone honestly think that the effect of relaxation produced is solely because of affinity for the loved one? If that were so, then other interaction between loved ones may also produce a healing effect. (Actually, this may well be so--we need more studies!)

But that aside, in the human experience, it is difficult to deny that massaging our bodies is relaxing. Certainly, there are some who find massage therapy anything but pleasurable, but mostly, those are individuals who are not comfortable with touch therapies, possibly because they've have had bad experiences with others, almost certainly NOT former massage therapists, but rather interpersonal relationship or possibly inter-family abuse. And, some people just don't like physical contact for no particular reason.

Editorial Board, H. Miller, Content Editor

As Massage Therapists, our role as part of your health care team is clear.
We are not Doctors or Nurses, and cannot replace their vital services.
But the number of conditions that Massage Therapy has been proven to help with
grows by the week, as new research is conducted worldwide about the far-ranging effects
of Therapeutic Massage.

The Massage Benefits Section of this web site is dedicated to learning, and sharing,
information about evidence-based Therapeutic Massage and health. As Massage Therapists, we
feel it is essential for our clients to be educated about Massage Therapy, and
the state of current research. This site is owned and operated by H. Miller, and is a non-moderated platform.

Our mission, with regard to the Massage Benefits section of NJMassage.Info,
is to inform our clients, and worldwide web users browsing our site,
about Massage Therapy, with regard to various topics including
quackery, current research studies, as well as conditions that Massage
Therapy shows promise with, as supported by medical and university research.

The information provided on the NJMassage.Info web site is
for informational purposes only and should not be considered
medical, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health
care advice. Nothing contained on the NJMassage.Info web site is
intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a
substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional.
NJMassage.Info displays advertisements and links to third party websites.
Mountainside On-Site Masage Therapy does not make any representation,
warranty, or endorsement of any product or service or the content
or accuracy of any materials contained in, or linked to,
any advertisement or link on the Site. All advertisements are clearly marked.
Ad proceeds may be used to help fund this site.

Page created April 21, 2011. Last modified 23 August, 2016.



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