Exploring the Nature of Therapeutic Massage Bodywork Practice

  • Antony J. Porcino, BSc, PhD, HSI CAMEO, BC Cancer Agency and UBC School of Nursing
  • Heather S. Boon, PhD University of Toronto
  • Stacey A. Page, PhD University of Calgary
  • Marja J. Verhoef, PhD University of Calgary
Keywords: complementary therapies/methods, massage, musculoskeletal manipulations, clinical competence, decision-making, qualitative research, clinical practice


Background: Research on therapeutic massage bodywork (TMB) continues to expand, but few studies consider how research or knowledge translation may be affected by the lack of uniformly standardized competencies for most TMB therapies, by practitioner variability from training in different forms of TMB, or from the effects of experience on practice. Purpose: This study explores and describes how TMB practitioners practice, for the purpose of improving TMB training, practice, and research. Participants & Setting: 19 TMB practitioners trained in multiple TMB therapies, in Alberta, Canada. Research Design: Qualitative descriptive sub-analysis of interviews from a comprehensive project on the training and practice of TMB, focused on the delivery of TMB therapies in practice. Results: Two broad themes emerged from the data: (1) every treatment is individualized, and (2) each practitioner’s practice of TMB therapies evolves. Individualization involves adapting treatment to the needs of the patient in the moment, based on deliberate and unconscious responses to verbal and nonverbal cues. Individualization starts with initial assessment and continues throughout the treatment encounter. Expertise is depicted as more nuanced and skilful individualization and treatment, evolved through experience, ongoing training, and spontaneous technique exploration. Practitioners consider such individualization and development of experience desirable. Furthermore, ongoing training and experience result in therapy application unique to each practitioner. Most practitioners believed they could not apply a TMB therapy without influence from other TMB therapies they had learned. Conclusions: There are ramifications for research design, knowledge translation, and education. Few practitioners are likely able to administer treatments in the same way, and most would not like to practice without being able to individualize treatment. TMB clinical studies need to employ research methods that accommodate the complexity of clinical practice. TMB education should facilitate the maturation of practice skills and self-reflection, including the mindful integration of multiple TMB therapies.

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How to Cite
Porcino, BSc, PhD, HSI, A. J., Boon, PhD, H. S., Page, PhD, S. A., & Verhoef, PhD, M. J. (2013). Exploring the Nature of Therapeutic Massage Bodywork Practice. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Research Education &Amp; Practice, 6(1), 15–24. https://doi.org/10.3822/ijtmb.v6i1.168