How to design a placebo-proof test for the efficacy of massage? Massage rabbits.

A group at Ohio State has been designing studies to measure the physiological response to massage, and they're trying to eliminate the placebo effect. So they're massaging rabbits. Alex Hutchinson at Runner's World says, "I wrote about the group's first study way back in 2008, which offered initial evidence that the rabbits did indeed recover more quickly after massage. Their most recent study, just published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, tackles the question of when massage is most effective."


  1. A coworker was similarly convinced of the positive effects of acupuncture on pain reduction.  Her aging cat was markedly improved after an acupuncture session with her vet.

  2. Not necessarily placebo-proof – you’d have to see EXACTLY how the rabbits are being treated, both control group and massaged group.

    There was a study years back, trying to find the efficacy of some drug or other food regimen.  The tests were being conducted in a number of different labs at the same time.

    At one site in particular, the animals were doing much, much better than at other sites.  The researchers visited the site to see what/how the experiment was being conducted differently. 

    They found that the lab animal technician was following the protocols correctly but, unlike the other sites, at feeding time, she would pick them up out of their cages, stroke them, and talk to them.

    /Used to date a research veterinarian.

  3. this sort of investigation will have to get to the gruesome level of massaging an isolated excised muscle before i’m convinced  (and it’s pronounced Franken-steeen!)

  4. Why “eliminate” the placebo effect?  It may be impossible, or it may be possible to seem to eliminate, while simply mucking up the data.  Why not instead acknowledge the placebo effect and use it as the baseline?  If your meds work no better than placebo, well that’s valuable data.

    1. Absolutely – but only when there’s a sure way to provide a sure placebo. You may not know what’s in a pill, but you can easily tell if you’ve been massaged or not. So if I wanted to learn if massage is effective or a placebo, what could I compare it against? That’s what this is trying to solve.

  5. I used to massage my rabbit faithfully all of the time, but he still sat around eating his poop all day.

    1. The only rabbit I’ve lived with used to randomly switch up his litter and food containers for poop and eating duty, didn’t seem to be especially fussed as to which got consumed and which got soiled. That, and aggressively attempting to mate with the cats, was pretty much the entirety of his repertoire.

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