Our Person of the Month is Karen Mooney, LMT winner of our Case of the Month contest for 2011. Ms. Mooney is a prominent figure in the world of massage therapy. She is an exceptionally effective medical massage practitioner, massage-therapy school founder, educator, and now massage scientist. Currently, she is completing her Ph.D. dissertation, which studies the effect of massage therapy on Fibromyalgia patients.

We are confident that her Ph.D. dissertation will make a long-lasting contribution to the entire massage therapy profession since her degree will be among the very few awarded in the United States for massage science.

Dr. Ross Turchaninov

Here is our interview with


Karen Mooney, LMT

Karen Mooney, LMT

JMS: Our congratulations on being the Winner of the JMS‘ Case of the Month contest!

K. Mooney: Thank you!

JMS: How did you get into the field of massage therapy?

K. Mooney: Two experiences influenced my decision. In the 1980s I studied TTouch with Linda Tellington Jones and was amazed at not only the athletic results but the attitude changes in our show horses. Folks would come into our stable and comment on how “happy” our horses seemed to be. 

Also, for years I suffered with migraine headaches and the adverse effects of medication. Then with all the barn work and working as a children’s therapist I began to have serious back pain which continually worsened for several years. I went the usual pain killing route until a friend gave me a gift certificate to a massage therapist. I cried in pain the whole way to his office and left wondering how many chores I could finish that day. I knew first hand from these examples the therapeutic value of massage and I had to incorporate that into my life. I went to massage school and I married my massage therapist! I have not had a headache or back pain since.

JMS: You practice medical massage on a daily basis. What is your view on medical massage? 

K. Mooney: I cannot tell you how passionate I am about medical massage. When I graduated from massage school I was concerned about what I was doing out there to clients with medical problems. People would come with pathologies and dysfunctions and I had no clue how massage was physiologically affecting them. That was scary. I felt there had to be something more precise and somehow I was led to medical massage theory and practice. Since then I have witnessed some powerful changes in patients’ lives and have devoted much of my career to educating others of the medical value to this modality. The supportive research validates the treatments and you can expect stable results. The best part is you know how you are affecting the body even to the intracellular level. 

Another exciting part of using medical massage is when our patients have often been through multi treatment programs and at the end of the line they come to us. We very often can help that patient.

JMS: From your perspective, how does the medical massage practice differ from stress-reduction massage?

K. Mooney: I appreciate your term ‘stress- reduction’ massage. People often ask me what is the difference between a ‘feel good’ massage and the medical massage! 

The ability to reduce the stress response in someone with a ‘stress reduction’ massage is both preventive and restorative. I tell everyone” if people truly understood the value of such a massage they would be lined up at the doors”. Many of our illnesses are either caused by or exacerbated by stress. There are many tools for reducing stress in our lives but massage has to be the best.

Medical massage then goes one step further with a clinical approach to treat the illness or dysfunction with a precise protocol. The session is shorter in most cases and the methods are focused on reducing the symptoms or eliminating the problem in the affected area of the body. A whole body treatment is not often indicated. The patient participates usually in the treatment with verbal feedback rather than quietly drifting off. However many of my patients do fall asleep when they think I understand the problem. And many treatments or problems addressed in medical massage would be contraindicated in a stress reduction approach.

There is a therapeutic stress- reducing component to medical massage which decreases the sympathetic response before beginning treatment. After a patient gets relief from the problem they often come for therapeutic massage maintenance.

JMS: Your PhD work examines massage therapy as a clinical tool for patients with Fibromyalgia. It seems that this will be the first PhD in which massage therapy is the cornerstone of the study. Please tell our readers more about your work

K. Mooney: Fifteen years ago I developed an integrative protocol for Fibromyalgia, with Medical Massage as the primary component. Insight for this protocol came from several years of working with Fibromyalgia patients in our Medical Massage clinic, listening to their detailed reports of daily symptoms, and assessing the futile standard treatments they experienced. 

Fifteen patients initially participated in two components of this intervention. Ten of those participants were consistent. After one complete cycle patients anecdotally reported a decrease in the symptoms of diffuse, chronic pain, hyperalgesia, hyperesthesia, fatigue, sleep disturbance, depression, and other comorbid conditions. All patients described a shift in awareness of their body sensations and the ability to make healthier choices for maintaining the new sense of wellness. The best part is many of these patients are still well after 15 years!

This initial success and many more following encouraged me to return to graduate school to engage in scientific investigation to validate its efficacy as an integrative approach for treating the whole body-mind experience of Fibromyalgia I am hoping to publish my dissertation by January 2013 and have been encouraged by my committee to present this evidence at international health conferences. I am really excited to advocate for Medical Massage!

JMS: Do you have a favorite type of bodywork? Other than Medical Massage? 

K. Mooney: My husband originally trained in Esalen and my son in law in Trager so you might say these are part of the family tradition. But medical massage incorporates all my favorite theories and practices, facilitates healing, and feels good, too! 

JMS: What professional advice you have for our readers?

K. Mooney: The only comment I have for this question is based on the result of years of being part of a profession that has struggled for respect. It is very important to learn and maintain the same standard of care, confidentiality, and integrity we would expect from any health care provider. Our clients/patients expect no less.

Category: Person of the Month