Research is key on the "orphaned organ" in Mount Royal's Massage Therapy program

Massage Therapy took its turn in the spotlight this spring as Mount Royal University students shared their research with instructors and fellow students alike.

Passersby took in the poster projects set up by 36 second-year Massage Therapy students at the east end of Main Street. The projects focused on muscle, or the "orphaned organ" as instructor Laurie Fisher likes to call the 650 skeletal muscles in the human body. The innovative research measured the effects of massage therapy on everything from plantar fasciitis to tension headaches due to whiplash to shoulder dislocation.

"We are seeing more acceptance that massage therapy is a critical component of health care. And that's due, in part, to research," says Fisher, the MRU grad who teaches the Case Study course. "We are making our way into the modern medical system. Physicians are starting to refer patients to massage therapists because they see results. And the students coming out of the Mount Royal program are top-notch therapists. We have one of the best programs in the province."

Katherine Cousineau shared her research project idea - The Effects of Massage Therapy on Active Knee Flexion 20 Years Post-ACL Reconstruction - with a chiropractor during a chance encounter on a ski lift. Surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament two decades ago left her client with a significant decrease in the range of motion of his left knee. The chiropractor told Cousineau not to expect any major gains. But the Canmore resident was determined to test her idea.

Katherine Cousineau

Katherine Cousineau shared her research project idea on the Effects of Massage Therapy on Active Knee Flexion 20 Years Post-ACL Reconstruction.

"The thinking is, 'What you have is what you have, and that's it.' But we see in my research that improvement is possible. There was a significant improvement in the range of motion in my client's knee after 10 sessions," Cousineau says. A 135° range of motion (ROM) is considered normal. Before treatment, her client had 108° ROM with his left knee. A variety of massage-therapy techniques and simple at-home exercises brought that up to 117°, an increase of 7.7%. As more than 1 million Canadians have injured an ACL, Cousineau's research has wide-ranging implications.

Cousineau, 30, has a degree in conservation science and worked for Alberta Parks for five years. But she knew she didn't want to sit behind a desk for the rest of her life. MRU's Massage Therapy program provided an intriguing alternative. "Deciding to go with Massage Therapy was a life-changing decision, for sure," she says. And Cousineau's hands-on experience with developmentally disabled children during the program's off-site community outreach has opened new career opportunities for her.

Graduates of the 2,200-hour Massage Therapy diploma achieve the highest level of training required to work in Alberta and across Canada. In addition, they're eligible for transfer credits towards the Thompson Rivers University's Bachelor of Health Science degree. Students learn therapeutic and relaxation massage techniques in an integrated curriculum that features academic content alongside practical, hands-on skill development. They study anatomy, physiology, pathology, business and research during in-class and online sessions.

For Cousineau's classmate Shelby Mahon, MRU was her first post-secondary experience. Her project, The Effects of Massage Therapy on Tempo mandibular Joint (TMJ) Crepitus, resulted in instant improvement for her client. To help relieve the audible clicking noises - measured at 69 decibels prior to treatment - caused by her client moving her jaw, Mahon performed intraoral massage. Presto! The clicking noises immediately dropped to 44 dB.

Shelby Mahon

Shelby Mahon presented her project on the Effects of Massage Therapy on Tempo mandibular Joint (TMJ) Crepitus.

"That first treatment went very well. The other results varied, but I saw a slow, steady decrease in the noise levels week by week," Mahon says. The tangible results are one of the selling points of a career in massage therapy for the 23-year-old. "I really like the personal aspect and helping people. I'm drawn to clinical issues and difficult conditions, so I want to go into clinical practice with the therapeutic side of massage."

During Tuesday's event, participants also spread the word on one of the best-kept secrets at MRU: the student-run clinic in the Roderick Mah Centre for Continuous Learning. The supervised learning environment offers relaxation and therapeutic massages, with proceeds going to student scholarships. A one-hour massage treatment is $30, with MRU students, staff, faculty and alumni receiving a $10 discount with their Campus Card. Call 403.440.6866 or visit the clinic webpage to learn more or book an appointment.

April 25, 2017 — Ruth Myles