Current MTF Research Projects

Learn more about currently ongoing MTF-funded research projects


Massage as an Intervention for Muscle Atrophy
2019 MTF Research Support Grant: $30,000
University of Kentucky Research Foundation, Lexington, KY

This project examines whether massage therapy is effective in decreasing muscle atrophy and helping subjects recover from muscle disuse. The loss of muscle mass during disease states is an important determinant of morbidity and mortality. This study researches the promising possibility that massage therapy may be effective in attenuating atrophy and aiding in regrowth of skeletal muscle through enhanced protein synthesis.

The study will artificially induce mild atrophy in healthy human test subjects by restricting muscle use through attaching mechanical devices preventing muscle motion for seven days. At the end of this period, investigators will use massage therapy to attempt to decrease atrophy and a restore normal protein synthesis (a detrimental decrease in protein synthesis is the underlying cause of muscle atrophy). Muscle biopsies will be obtained from all subjects at multiple points during the study.

Results of this study will indicate whether massage can be used as an intervention for the loss of muscle mass during an atrophying event. This is of high clinical significance as massage could be used in some patients who are unable to undergo traditional rehabilitation, such as those in intensive care units or unable to perform weight-bearing exercises after orthopedic surgery. In addition, identifying mechanisms by which massage enhances muscle size and increases protein synthesis will inform us how to improve this beneficial response

Click here for a short video synopsis of this study


Ergonomics Project: Phase One
2019 MTF Research Project: $15,000
Robin Anderson, MEd, LMT, BCTMB, CEAS

MTF is conducting data collection about the work of massage therapy professionals to create a structured job task analysis.  With this information, our goal is to provide safety parameters for massage therapy work which may include identifying risk factors, examining practice environments, and analyzing the essence of how typical massage therapy work tasks are performed.

This study aims to provide the profession with information which improves workplace safety and efficiency for therapists, and to inspires researchers to take the initial results and explore them more fully.

  • Phase one: Will look at physical demands on the therapist and environmental contexts such as room size.
  • Phase two: Will employ the use of micro sensors measuring force output.

This innovative project has the potential to make a significant contribution to the health and career longevity of MT professionals.

A special thank you to the 755 massage therapists who contributed to this project by submitting survey responses. We appreciate your help!

Click here to read more about the MTF Ergonomics Project


Massage Service Integration in a Military Primary Care Clinic: Implementation and Impact Study
2019 MTF Research Award: $210,000
Dr. Krista Highland
Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management (DVCIPM), Rockville, MD

This grant was funded by a gift from AMTA

Acute and chronic pain carry grave economic, operational, and personal consequences within the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Administration (VA). Both the DoD and VA populations have significantly higher prevalence of chronic pain compared to civilian populations. As a result, the opioid epidemic witnessed in the civilian population is mirrored in the DoD and VA populations. The study researches massage therapy’s promising evidence-based approach to reducing the burden of chronic pain within the DoD and VA.

Click here to read the press release.


A Pilot Study of Massage Therapy to Improve Self-Efficacy in Patients with Left-Ventricular Device
2019 MTF Research Award: $38,000
Dr. James Hunter Groninger
MedStar Health Research Institute (MHRI), Hyattsville, MD
This grant was funded by a gift from AMTA

This study will compare the impact of 6 massage therapy sessions against usual care for advanced heart failure during 6 routine post left-ventricular assist device (LVAD) implantation clinic visits to determine effects of therapeutic massage on Self‐Efficacy for Managing Chronic Disease (SEMCD) scale scores. The project’s significance stems from its: 1) exploration of a novel, highly relevant indication for massage therapy; 2) study design with a relevant control; 3) a racially diverse, underserved patient population; 4) a novel exploration of potential cultural preferences on massage therapy; and 5) scalability potential.

Watch a short video about this study below:


Effect of Massage Therapy on Opiate Use in the Hospital-based Pediatric Population
2018 MTF Research Grant: $30,000
Kelly Tanner, PhD, OTR/L

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH

Chronic pain affects up to 46% of pediatric patients with an annual cost of nearly $20 billion. Standards of care in pain management often rely on opioid pain medication due to limited viable alternatives. Pain management often serves as early exposure to opioids, which can increase the likelihood of opioid misuse and heroin initiation later in life. The overall objective of this study is to explore the role of and evidence for Massage Therapy (MT) in treating pain in pediatric patients admitted to a pediatric hospital. Participants (0 18 years) will include all inpatient MT recipients with an electronic health record (EHR) and a matched control group of patients receiving opioids without MT. In this retrospective study, information will be extracted via chart review of patients’ EHR, which was implemented in 2011.

The specific aims of this study will describe the extent of consultations and utilization of MT in a large, urban, Midwestern, freestanding, pediatric hospital, and then determine the extent to which MT reduces use of opioid pain medication during hospital admissions. Hypothesis 1 is that a large, diverse pediatric patient population receives MT while hospitalized. Hypothesis 2 is that patients receiving MT utilize less opioid pain medication than those without MT. Main Outcome Measure 1 will be a descriptive baseline of MT utilization by inpatient pediatric patients, including demographic, consultative, and diagnostic information. Main Outcome Measure 2 will quantify opioid used, both volume and morphine milligram equivalents, in the two comparison groups. Differences between opioid use in the MT group and the propensity-matched non-MT group will be analyzed using a statistical outcome model, which allows for exploration of factors. This research will significantly contribute to the body of MT research by establishing baseline demographics for a hospital-based pediatric population while advancing MT as an alternative to opioid use in this population.

Click here to learn more about the Massage Therapy Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.


Massage Therapy for Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders
2017 MTF Research Award: $38,000
Dr. Dana Madigan
National University of Health Sciences, Lombard, IL
This grant was funded by a gift from AMTA

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) of massage therapists are common with some studies estimating 50% of therapists experiencing pain in the past 30 days, and 71.4% experiencing a WRMSD in the past year. Areas most commonly affected include the upper extremity, back, and neck. There are many proposed risk factors for increased injury, including work duration, amount of daily client contact, self-care tactics, fatigue, and ergonomic considerations such as posture and table height. Despite approximately 90% of therapists receiving training on injury prevention tactics, external constraints resulted in only half of therapists consistently adjusting their table height. Due to known associations with WRMSDs, interventions need to focus both on physical and psychosocial risk factors.

This two-year longitudinal survey study uses a sample of massage therapists taking AMTA continuing education courses on injury prevention and body mechanics. The study assesses knowledge of self-care and body mechanics for massage-related injury prevention, the implementation of self-care practices, the prevalence of signs and symptoms of musculoskeletal pain of therapists, and if injuries are severe enough to warrant medical care. This will provide preliminary measures of prevalence and severity of WRMSD signs, symptoms, and disorders. Additionally, examining these components on a continuum will help identify where to focus future interventions to support the health and career longevity of massage therapists. The specific aims are as follows:
1. Develop appropriate questionnaires for massage therapists regarding WRMSDs, body mechanics, and self-care for injury prevention.
2. Describe body mechanics and self-care injury prevention knowledge before, immediately after, 3 months after, and 6 months after taking the AMTA continuing education course.
3. Describe the implementation of body mechanics and self-care techniques for injury prevention following an online continuing education course.
4. Describe the prevalence of and body parts affected for WRMSD signs, symptoms, and injuries.
5. Identify additional factors associated with massage therapy practice that influence self-care adherence and WRMSDs signs/symptoms.


Massage Therapy as an Adjunct Intervention to Decrease Tobacco Use in Pregnancy
2017 MTF Research Grant: $29,757
Dr. Helen Rutherford
Yale University, New Haven, CT

A significant number of women continue to smoke tobacco during pregnancy despite the increased risk of complications to fetal and infant development. Therefore, effective interventions are needed to assist pregnant women with the process of tobacco cessation. Traditional counseling programs have demonstrated some success; however, novel approaches that target stress
as a mechanism in the maintenance of addiction would be valuable.

This study will examine the role of stress in addiction and the utility of massage therapy to decrease stress during pregnancy. Preliminary evidence suggests massage therapy may be beneficial to decreasing tobacco use, and research in pregnant populations is needed.

Read more here: http://www.ijtmb.org/index.php/ijtmb/article/view/379/436