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Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2016 Sep 9;9(3):15-26. eCollection 2016 Sep.

Clarifying Definitions for the Massage Therapy Profession: the Results of the Best Practices Symposium.

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University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, Human Performance Lab, Greenville, SC, USA.
Department of Research at the National University of Health Sciences, Lombard, IL, USA.
University of South Carolina, College of Social Work, Columbia, SC, USA.
Pacific Northwest College of Allied Health Sciences, Seattle, WA, USA.
University of South Carolina Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, Columbia, SC, USA.



Massage therapists are at times unclear about the definition of massage therapy, which creates challenges for the profession. It is important to investigate the current definitions and to consider the field as a whole in order to move toward clarity on what constitutes the constructs within the profession.


To determine how a sample of experts understand and describe the field of massage therapy as a step toward clarifying definitions for massage and massage therapy, and framing the process of massage therapy practice.


A two-day symposium held in 2010 with the purpose of gathering knowledge to inform and aid in the creation of massage therapy best practice guidelines for stress and low back pain.


Thirty-two experts in the field of massage therapy from the United States, Europe, and Canada.


Qualitative analysis of secondary cross-sectional data using a grounded theory approach.


Three over-arching themes were identified: 1) What is massage?; 2) The multidimensional nature of massage therapy; and 3) The influencing factors on massage therapy practice.


The data offered clarifying definitions for massage and massage therapy, as well as a framework for the context for massage therapy practice. These clarifications can serve as initial steps toward the ultimate goal of creating new theory for the field of massage therapy, which can then be applied in practice, education, research, and policy.


Foundational research into how experts in the profession understand and describe the field of massage therapy is limited. Understanding the potential differences between the terms massage and massage therapy could contribute to a transformation in the profession in the areas of education, practice, research, policy and/or regulation. Additionally, framing the context for massage therapy practice invites future discussions to further clarify practice issues.


clinical practice; context; ecological framework; grounded theory; massage therapy; qualitative research


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