Massage therapists who have recently graduated from massage college are excited to launch their next phase of growth and learning - professional practice. There are many practical decisions to make, such as whether to join an interdisciplinary clinic, set up a home-based service, or take your expertise on the road as a mobile MT. Graduates are tackling marketing initiatives, negotiating contracts, and perhaps deciding on an area of focus. But at the centre of the juggling act is the core directive of every registered massage therapist: a commitment to protect and promote patients’ wellbeing. Fundamental to the pursuit of client health is research literacy. In addition to acquiring new therapeutic techniques and business-building acumen, staying abreast of research is an essential part of professional development for MTs.
The first step in leveraging new research to improve your practice, is knowing precisely where to look for reliable sources. It is best practice to consult clinical studies from peer-reviewed journals - the research sources you were introduced to during massage therapy training. Engaging effectively with research means approaching new hypotheses and findings from a critical standpoint; asking questions and developing your own conclusions. The main goal of investigating recent research is to discover in what ways it can inform your professional development and serve the health needs of patients. Critical readers take notes, highlight the most useful sections of case studies and results, and keep track of unanswered questions that will in turn, guide the focus of their next reading.
Since improving patient care is the motivation behind seeking out new research, it’s important for MTs to learn ways of incorporating findings into their own practice. Applying their knowledge, massage therapists educate patients on the difference between what seems to work best from experience, versus results backed by scientific evidence. Good research enriches MTs' understanding of which techniques work best and why - insight they can share with patients to enhance treatment plans and potentially, improve outcomes. Through these exchanges, clients become aware of the scope of their MT's knowledge, enhancing the credibility of individual practices and the profession as a whole.
Although many graduates of training programs are interested primarily in administering therapy, rather than pursuing research, they can still contribute to the field through active inquiry. Critical reading combined with practical application will generate questions for MTs. These questions, once voiced, prompt future studies, deeper insights, and ultimately more questions! It’s the cycle of inquiry that drives scientific research and even if the MT is not acting as primary investigator, he or she can offer valuable input - observations from the field combined with a critical review of available research. Raising these observations in conversation with other health care providers and during professional development seminars helps to establish the integrity of massage therapy as an essential part of our health care system.
In what ways has research enhanced your practice as a massage therapist?