Research and therapy: parallel universes

Empirical research is laboratory controlled, reductive, statistical, exclusionary and kind of dull. In the case of hands-on bodywork it is so controlled as to be nothing like a treatment session.

Each research study always starts with a question. One then develops a hypothesis or idea, to be tested. One then devises a way to test this hypothesis. After the practical bit one analyses the outcomes, comes to a conclusion and hopes someone out there will find it interesting enough to publish.

To be top-notch research it should be randomized, double blinded and have a control group so as not to be accused of cheating. All this takes time and costs money. People get PhDs because they like to do this stuff. Most of us in the massage profession haven’t got PhDs and therefore don’t get to design a research project. Some do, however.

Let’s parallel the previous paragraphs on bench research and compare it with bedside research. This method can be called ‘evidence informed’. In healthcare evidence informed efficacy is based on  ‘the best available, current, valid and relevant evidence’. We do it each time we see a client.

Our client comes in with a problem, which raises a question; ‘how can I help them with this problem?’ We start collecting information; subjective and objective. Sounds like the beginning of SOAP charts doesn’t it? We then use some clinical reasoning to come up with a mutually agreeable treatment plan. After implementation of this plan we reassess to obtain some outcome measures; hurts less, feels better, less stiff, or maybe feeling worse. We then tinker with the plan for next time. These are the APs of SOAP.

If we develop bona fide measurement criteria like the visual analogue scale (VAS) to record the changes then this can pass for research. If more of us write up good treatment notes on lots of clients, then collate and group the results then it will become even more meaningful.

Down the line we may be able to collectively hold our heads high and say with authority that NMT is good for headaches, back pain, myofascial pain syndrome and so on. Ultimately, we may be able to prevent or at least reduce the more invasive medical procedures or drug taking.