Tiffany Field: Pioneer in the Science of Touch

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March is National Women’s History Month and while many women have made advances in the Therapeutic Massage field such as Ida Rolf who founded Rolfing Structural Integration and Eunice Ingham who furthered the study of Reflexology, we at Legit Massage have chosen to highlight the works and career of Ms. Tiffany Field, Ph. D. As the Director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, Ms. Field is largely recognized for her work involving massage and premature babies and is considered the premier advocate for touch research. Her 1986 study was the first in the world of scientific research devoted solely to the study of touch and its application and use in the science and medicine field.

Before her landmark study, massage as a therapeutic technique was not widely accepted by the mainstream medical community. It was Tiffany Field, who recognized the fact that the only way massage was going to be accepted was to pass through the filter of scientific research which would support the thousands year old theoretical foundation of massage therapy. Massage therapy is to a large extent difficult to quantify using scientific methods because of the many variables in place ranging from the many common research pitfalls to the inability to conduct what is considered the gold standard in science research – the double blind randomized controlled trial. That would require both the therapist and the subject to not know they are being massaged. (Where is one of those Men In Black memory erasers when you need it most?) However, Tiffany Field conducted several scientific studies based on infant massage for premature babies using widely accepted scientific methods.

Her 1986 study was given to 20 preterm babies over 10 days with a group of 20 control preterm babies. While monitoring growth, sleep-wake, and assessing strengths, adaptive responses and possible vulnerabilities (Brazelton scale performance), she stimulated and massaged the babies and performed passive movements of the limbs for three 15-minute periods per day. She concluded that gentle touch or massage to pre-term newborns increased a healthy weight gain improving the health of the child and subsequently lowered health care costs as the babies who received massage were discharged earlier than the babies who did not receive massage. Since that initial study, she has conducted numerous experiments involving massage therapy that has helped corroborate that massage therapy performed by legitimate massage therapists enhance attentiveness, alleviate depression, reduce pain, lower stress hormones, and improves immune function studying everyone from babies to adolescents to the elderly. For a complete listing of the many different massage therapy studies performed by Ms. Field at the Touch Research Institute, please view abstracts at

So as the centuries old profession of massage therapy moves into the 21st century and gains acceptance by the medical and scientific community it is imperative that licensed massage therapists strive to substantiate our claims of the many benefits of massage with scientific research. According to the March 13th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Andrea Peterson writes, “There’s been a surge of scientific interest in massage. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, is currently spending $2.7 million on massage research, up from $1.5 million in 2002. The Massage Therapy Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds massage research, held its first scientific conference in 2005.” So in saluting Tiffany Field, who helped usher in new approaches to understanding and quantifying massage therapy for the scientific and medical establishment, it is best to leave suggestions where we as therapists must aim for the future to Ms. Field herself.

For the massage field to play a role in shaping the future of touch research more massage therapists need to earn Ph.Ds. in fields that will allow them to conduct research incorporating massage, such as neuroscience, psychology or biology…

Just adding massage makes such an incredible difference. In everything we’ve done, massage is significantly effective. There’s not a single condition we’ve looked at—including cancer—that hasn’t responded positively to massage.”

-Tiffany Field (via Massage Magazine 2006)

Kip Yates, LMT was trained at the Swedish Institute in New York City and is New York State and Texas State licensed. He is owner and operator of Massage Refresh in New York City where he provides Swedish wellness and recuperative Deep Tissue massage that encompasses myofascial release and trigger point therapy. Kip lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children and also practices at Physiofitness Physical Therapy in Soho.

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