Birth and Infancy of a Research Massage Therapist, Pt. 3

continued from Birth and Infancy of a Research Massage Therapist, Pt.2

a research massage therapist uses a pulse-oximeter to know heart rate and blood oxygenationIn 2011, at the Oct. AMTA conference,1 I learned about the importance of research to advance the field of massage therapy. In 2012 I enrolled in Functional Neurology for Bodyworkers taught by a chiropractic physician, Dr. Paul Thomas. It was a year-long, rigorous study of human neurology, brain and nervous system structure and functions, applications of neuroscience research, principles of neuroplasticity, and how massage, acupuncture, other bodywork, diet and specially designed movement exercises could impact a variety of health conditions.

One of the course requirements was a case report. A person with Parkinson’s walked into my office and I naively asked that person’s consent to participate in a research study. Then I scrambled to find research guidelines, a mentor, how to set up a case study, the most respected Parkinson’s rating scales. And plunged in. I read about Parkinson’s and massage research, and decided I would attempt to explore quality of life improvement through bodywork.31373517_s

I was painstakingly applying the principles taught in FNB class, when I started seeing dyskinesias–the excessive body movements when Parkinson’s levodopa medications peak or overlap. I knew from caring for my uncle with Parkinson’s, it might mean too much medication in the system, but there had been no change in medication. I realized if someone could make functional improvements in how their brain produced or processed dopamine, it might decrease the need for medications, and produce dyskinesias. Is it possible that neuroplastic benefits could be possible for Parkinson’s? What to do?

2814420_sThe first stage for this research massage therapist was three sleepless nights. I was terrified—what if the client came to harm? Dr. Thomas said that Parkinson’s was probably the most complicated case I could choose, but he didn’t want to discourage me at the beginning of the course because I was so enthusiastic. He was not requiring case studies with the depth I was undertaking, and he suggested I let the doctor know that I was seeing neuroplastic changes in the mesencephalon, where dopamine is produced.

I learned a foreign language: medical neurology to research massage benefits. I studied everything I could find on research massage complications, conditions for neuroplasticity, what could be happening with my Parkinson’s patient. I attended Parkinson’s support groups. I attended OHSU’s Neurology Grand Rounds, and seminars and symposiums given by doctors. I started seeing more patients with Parkinson’s, and extended my case report to a case series.

IMG_1252In April 2013, I attended the Massage Therapy Foundation’s International Massage Therapy Research Conference (IMTRC)2 in Boston. I learned I needed to redesign my case study research so that it could be replicated, and minimize variables. I needed to find bias, scrutinize claims, refine my hypothesis in the context of what is plausible, make sure every statement is well-reasoned, and every argument is rational. A lot of work!

I had been badly bitten by the research massage bug. At the IMTRC I learned in a deeper way, how important research is to advancing our knowledge and how we communicate it to others, so it benefits more than just the people we touch. I have since learned that research doesn’t prove everything. Out of whatever science believes it knows so far, with its human interpretations, 50% will be overthrown by new research in the next 30 years.

And all my training and experience is still valid: my research is strengthened by client centered care, encouraging clients in self-love, empowerment, and the need to process emotions through the body. Despite the fact that it’s not been proven by well-established research to benefit people with Parkinson’s yet.

Next Blog: Bitten by the Research Bug: Thinking Outside the Box


1 I was late registering, the techniques classes were filled. So I took the research track, and was glad I did! AMTA 2011 National Convention
2 2013 IMTRC was powerful: becoming effective in massage research, and how massage serves the underserved people and as a public service. Laura Allen wrote a blog on IMTRC, and Diana L. Thompson wrote an article. The speakers who left deep impressions on me were Dr. Jeanette Ezzo; Ruth Werner; Cynthia Price;
Leon Chaitow, Leslie Korn; Geoffrey Bove; Jerrilyn Cambron; Shay Beider and various case report winners, LMT’s like me or awesome Canadian CMTs. Next one in 2016 is in Seattle.

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