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Massage Therapy’s Body of Knowledge Essay

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Updated: May 25th, 2021

In Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge, Fong et al. (2010) develop an effort to investigate the field of massage therapy and create a common understanding of the chosen profession. This article proves the evolution of massage therapy and defines the aspects all massage therapists have to follow. It is not enough to know how to use gained skills and abilities in practice. It is important to learn how to integrate education, certification, and personal attitudes in order to succeed in this type of therapy. The authors of the article clearly identify three main competencies of the profession of a massage therapist, including knowledge, skills, and abilities.

In terms of this BOK, massage therapy is defined as a “healthcare and wellness profession” that consists of “patient-centered session, intended to support therapeutic goals, with the therapist being free of personal agenda” (Fong et al., 2010, p. 6). Massage therapists have to identify the scope of their duties and never confuse what they have to do to patients and what they are able to do. The authors of the BOK develop a separate section to explain that such activities as “diagnosis of medical or orthopedic conditions,” “performing of surgery,” or “diet or nutritional counseling” cannot be supported by massage therapists (Fong et al., 2010, p. 9). However, massage therapy is complex, and the chosen BOK is a good chance to identify the boundaries in practice, recognize the necessary ethical issues, and learn the therapeutic relationships that should matter.


Nowadays, massage therapy is defined as a significant part of the modern medical system of care and a universal means to relieve pain among patients (Buckenmaier et al., 2016). Many people are ready to try this kind of help, and some people still have certain doubts and concerns about the effectiveness of such therapy. Therefore, Fong et al. (2010) pay much attention to the development of trustful relationships between therapists and patients and the role of human emotions in sessions. The worth of properly developed relationships is discussed by many researchers. For example, Lavery and Salvo (2015) say about the importance of such abilities as empathy, respect, and trust in therapeutic relations. A properly chosen approach to communication and cooperation may promote positive results and health improvements.

Massage therapy success is predetermined by multiple factors. In addition to the knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, professional therapists should be aware of massage history and give enough credible information in case a patient is interested in this field, demonstrate their research and law literacy, and identify the boundaries of self-care, as well as the relationships that may and may not be developed with clients (Fong et al., 2010). An appropriate application of therapeutic modalities is another important factor in massage because they can be used to investigate possible physiological responses and interpret the measurements that can protect a patient and avoid harmful effects.

Font et al. (2010) introduce the BOK that focuses on different aspects of massage therapy and helps to understand the responsibilities of therapists alongside the expectations of patients and existing regulations. Massage is one of the most successful and effective examples of alternative medicine that is characterized by a number of emotional, mental, and physical benefits (Fong et al., 2010). Therefore, people continue choosing it in case they want to reduce pain, anxiety or depression level, blood pressure, or weight.

The authors of the chosen BOK prove that massage therapy takes a significant place in modern medicine. However, without even posing a single question in the article, the reader may be challenged by the necessity to understand what techniques and knowledge may improve massage therapy, what types of relations are possible to develop between patients and therapists, and why some educational institutions are ready to provide training beyond the already offered knowledge, skills, and abilities. Does such a possibility say about some weaknesses of the chosen MTBOK?


Goals of Massage Therapy

In regards to the fast development and growth of massage therapy and its effects on people, numerous approaches and theories are developed in order to comprehend the essence of this practice and its true goals. For example, Fong et al. (2010) indicate such outcomes of massage therapy as pain treatment, stress reduction, enhanced movement, and balance of body, mind, and spirit. Though they do not want to limit the chosen practice to these goals, their presence cannot be ignored. However, there are also several new approaches with the help of which massage therapy can be improved. Lavery and Salvo (2015) develop their research on the differences between what serving and helping can mean. They suggest being careful with the use of the term “help” in massage therapy. Serving differs from helping because the latter is based on some kind of inequality and cannot promote trustful relations between the parties, and the former term helps to underline the possibility to use personal knowledge and abilities for someone’s healing (Lavery & Salvo, 2015). Massage therapy should not be based on the use of power and strength. It should be a chance for people to be healed even if someone’s assistance is required.

The essence of Massage Therapy

The essence of massage therapy may vary at different health care organizations and clinics. This therapy may be performed in different practice settings regarding the needs of clients or patients. Fong et al. (2010) identify such places as offices that serve community needs, special clinics, hospitals, client homes, SPAs, or even airports where massage therapy may be offered. Nowadays, special message boxes may be easily found on the beach. This variety impresses and proves that the boundaries of massage therapy are impressive. It is wrong to believe that people can use massage for one particular purpose. It is also wrong to believe that if a person chooses massage therapy for one particular purpose, for example, pain relief once, it is impossible to address a massage therapist to decrease the level of anxiety or depression another time. The use of massage therapy may vary as from one patient to another patient, as well as from different cases of the same patient (Buckenmaier et al., 2016). The essence of massage therapy should be understood not in relation to its goals but in relation to the methods and techniques used.

Fong et al. (2010) explain that massage therapy is a “human touch with clear intentions, focused on attention and the attitudes of compassion and non-judgment” (p. 6). Such definition means that a therapist may use, as well as a patient may be subjected to, different goals and techniques using the same method that is the human touch. It is necessary not to confuse the essence of massage therapy with its components. The BOK developed by Fong et al. (2010) contains the description of different steps in massage practice, proving that massage therapists have to work hard in order to learn the theoretical basis of the chosen practice and share their knowledge with their patients in a proper way. Therapists must understand what they can and cannot do in terms of their practice.

Scope of Massage Practice

Manipulation of soft tissue is a core technique in massage practice. It can be developed in a variety of ways regarding the task a therapist has to complete. However, the suggestions and recommendations given by Fong et al. (2010) seem to be controversial or, at least, not complete, making the reader think about the peculiarities of a working process. For example, first, assessment by a therapist is allowed during a massage. However, in several lines, a number of restrictions take place, including the impossibility to diagnose patients. When a therapist assesses a patient, the latter usually expect to obtain some kind of diagnosis. It is hard to explain to patients that massage therapy accepts an examination and assessment but never a diagnosis. Still, it is a rule, and it is better to focus on the techniques that can be used to support effective and informative communication and the clarification of the roles and responsibilities of therapists.

Through the chosen BOK, the authors indicate a number of restrictions massage therapists should be careful with. Though they introduce a list of taboo practices, including naturopathy, biofeedback, and herbalism, they fail to explain if other alternatives and options may be taken into consideration (Fong et al., 2010). In other words, it is not enough to forbid something. It is better to explain how these restrictions may be overcome.

Importance of Knowledge, Abilities, and Skills

One of the strongest aspects of massage therapy BOK is the recognition of specific requirements for therapists with a number of skills and abilities that have to be supported by an appropriate level of knowledge. To be a successful massage therapist, a person should not only learn something and have specialized background knowledge but also develop a required portion of skills and use all abilities. Therefore, some educational institutions find it necessary to follow the BOK that has been already established or go beyond the frames and focus on such issues as self-development, inborn abilities, and personal growth.

Knowledge is defined as some technical information that has to be used in massage therapy and supports the chosen practice from theoretical and research points of view. For example, Fong et al. (2010) suggest therapists understanding business practices and legal requirements to prove their professionalism. Lavery and Salvo (2015) explain massage professionalism as a set of obligations, expectations, and values. Different definitions and attitudes to the same practice promote various explanations with the same essence.

Abilities are defined by Fong et al. (2010) as innate and learned behaviors that can lead to particular results in therapy. As a rule, therapists should be able to uphold certain standards or recognize change, promote discussion, or continuing education. It is possible to stop using these abilities in massage therapy. Still, their effects cannot be neglected or avoided.

Finally, the skills of therapists play an important role in practice because they introduce all those psychomotor capabilities that are necessary for a massage (Fong et al., 2010). The authors are good at identifying numerous skills of therapists, including palpation, recessive actions, stretching, or adaptation. Pain management may have different forms (Field, 2014), and the concepts in the BOK prove that therapists should give clear explanations to every decision made in therapy. Clear instructions and explanations offered help to understand how to succeed in massage therapy and provide clients with the best and most appropriate services.


In today’s educational programs, it is easy to find numerous BOKs and learn the concepts that play an important role in the growth of different practices. Students have to understand the essence of every activity they may be involved in. However, BOKs usually contain some general concepts, rules, and definitions. The example of the chosen massage therapy body of knowledge proves that massage is a complex service that has to be organized according to a number of rules and requirements. When people address a massage therapist, they usually expect to have high-quality services, assessment, and recommendations with the help of which they can find a solution to their problems that may be of different types, including emotional challenges, physical exhaustion, or blood disorders.

The chosen BOK is an informative source because it contains the details of massage therapy and describes the responsibilities every therapist has to be aware of. For example, there are the steps that therapists have to take, including client’s assessment, a formulation of treatment plans, and a promotion of wellness (Fong et al., 2010). There are also the restrictions massage therapists should never forget, which are diagnosing people, performing surgery, or even homeopathy. The BOK is a guide that has to be followed by new and not-experienced therapists. It is also a good list of rules and prompts for professional therapists.

Massage therapy can be a helpful tool for many people to improve their health, find out their emotional balance, and achieve positive psychological and physiological outcomes. Massage therapists do not have a right to a mistake. Pain is the condition millions of people may suffer from because of different reasons (Buckenmaier et al., 2016). If massage therapy is a possibility to manage or, at least, reduce the level of pain, it has to be used. Therefore, if the BOK authored by the MTBOK Task Force has a rule, suggestion, or recommendation, it has to be taken into consideration and followed properly. There are many regulations for therapists, and professionalism or properly developed relationships with clients are not the only expectations. Certain attention has to be paid to confidentiality, reporting, and different boundaries (Lavery & Salvo, 2015). The BOK is a good chance for learners to understand what kind of work has to be performed at different levels of massage therapy practice.


In general, Fong et al. (2010) created an excellent source of information about massage therapy and all practical issues any therapist has to be aware of. In fact, every person may tell that it is possible and even easy to offer a massage. However, the list of rules and regulations proves that massage therapy is a responsibility, not every person is ready for. There are many restrictions that cannot be broken. There are many expectations of clients that cannot be neglected. Finally, there are the rules which make massage therapy a helpful tool to manage pain and achieve a number of positive health outcomes.


Buckenmaier, C., Cambron, J., Werner, R., Buckenmaier, P., Deery, C., Schwartz, J., & Whitridge, P. (2016). Massage therapy for pain – Call to action. Pain Medicine, 17(7), 1211-1214.

Field, T. (2014). Massage therapy research review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 20(4), 224-229.

Fong, B., Lavery, M.E., Pierce, K., Salvo, S.G., Schenkman, S., Schmidt, D.M., … Shea, M.J. (2010). Massage therapy body of knowledge (MTBOK). Web.

Lavery, M.E., & Salvo, S.G. (2015). The therapeutic relationship. In S.G. Salvo (Ed.), Massage therapy: Principles and practice (7th ed.) (pp. 14-41). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.

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