“The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.” Hippocrates (c. 460- c. 370 BC)

Editor-In-Chief, Chester "Trip" Buckenmaier III, MD, COL (ret.), MC, USA

Chester “Trip” Buckenmaier III, MD,
COL (ret.), MC, USA

The classical Greek physician Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine and is credited for believing that disease was caused naturally and not due to supernatural forces or the gods. With this idea, medicine as a body of knowledge began its journey into the realm of science and the scientific method to drive medical understanding and therapeutic practice.
The modern expression of this idea is the use of evidence-based medicine that leverages the best evidence from well designed and executed clinical research to drive clinical decision-making. The “evidence” is derived from the precise application of the scientific method that is based on empiricism or measurement to obtain information to test hypotheses about the physical and observable world. From this data various hypotheses about disease or treatment are rejected, modified or expanded. If the idea in question cannot be subjected to testing and empirical observation or measurement, it is set aside as material for philosophy or religion; or perhaps until scientific advances allow empirical observation or measurement of the idea. Science and the scientific method are the foundation of the house of medicine, and medical language springs from the application of these principles. The marriage of science and medicine has made all the difference, and the improvements to the human condition have been, to put it mildly, miraculous.
I recently had the good fortune to attend and speak at the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) 2016 National Meeting in Milwaukee, WI, this past October. The opening ceremony keynote speaker was Robin Roberts of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” who described how massage helped with her battle with breast cancer. I was surprised and impressed to learn that AMTA’s membership tops over 70,000 massage therapists. As a physician and anesthesiologist, I was indeed a “rare bird” at this particular convention.
In full disclosure, I work for my wife as her medical acupuncturist in her massage practice, since we find the combination of massage and acupuncture so effective for patients suffering from musculoskeletal pain. We had the good fortune to serve as subject matter experts on a series of systematic reviews detailing the medical evidence in support of massage therapy for treating pain in the general population,1 pain in cancer patients2 and post-surgical pain.3 The systematic review process was hosted by AMTA and the Samueli Institute (methodological details of the systematic review are available in the manuscripts).
A systematic review of a particular medical topic, in this case massage therapy for managing pain, is a critical review of existing research manuscripts from reputable peer reviewed journals that allows pooling of the data through statistical means to make general statements about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of a given medical therapy. Systematic reviews of well-controlled medical trials are considered to be the best type of evidence upon which to base therapeutic treatment decisions. Admittedly, because the randomized trials from which these reviews are developed are produced by human medical researchers, they are subject to the same flaws and mistakes that plague all human endeavors. Nevertheless, because these results are derived from observable and measurable phenomena, the results can be re-evaluated and validated by other researchers. This is a central tenet of the scientific method: The results must be published in such a way that any researcher could reproduce the medical experiment and be reasonably certain to obtain similar results.

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  1. Ruth Werner says:

    Thank you for your well chosen words, Dr. Buckenmaier. The Massage Therapy Foundation, which instigated the systematic reviews cited here, was enriched by your participation.

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