Hacking Your Way Through The Jungle Of Research Claims
“When we place our hands on a patient and act/move in certain ways our patients improve.”
Social media receives a good deal of criticism from folks who feel it is the ultimate waste of time…though those same folks are usually posting these opinions on social media. Research “findings” are frequently posted on mass media sites, but end up being fluffy opinion pieces rather than accurate and objective articles. Even published papers can be misleading or poorly conducted, creating an impression of conclusive proof when none exists.
As an active member of a number of manual therapy groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, I read many posts that speak to the “proof” of specific manual therapy modalities and their effectiveness based on published findings, but occasionally am I able to watch as a paper is deconstructed.
The Skeptical Massage Therapist Facebook is a rather small group devoted to those who identify themselves as scientific skeptics, of which I include myself. (While their name would imply that I, as a physical therapist, would be excluded, they are liberal in allowing a wide range of manual therapists into their group) There was a recent post on the Group made by Nick Ng, a journalist for the TellUs News Digest, formerly of Guardian Liberty Voice and massage therapist, in response to an article he had written for the TellUs News Digest on CranioSacral Therapy. He posted to the Facebook Group, asking for feedback on a specific article titled “A randomized controlled trial investigating the effects of craniosacral therapy on pain and heart rate variability in fibromyalgia patients”(link)
Bryan Quesnelle provided some excellent observations and he graciously allowed me to share those observations here. Bryan runs the Clinic Wise Clinic Management Database and online CEU courses). I am not research literate, in comparison to many of my peers and when I read a paper published in a science journal I often make assumptions that there are stringent rules to assure the writers pass certain standards before the paper is published. While I am not casting any negative light on the writers of this study or the subject matter, Bryan had some very good observations:
“The “sham” group wasn’t receiving sham cranio treatments, they were attached to a disconnected magneto therapy machine… Basically, this was comparing CST to laying down without intervention. This doesn’t help at all to validate the premise of CST, just shows that attentive human touch can impact perceived pain levels. The controls necessary to isolate CST mechanisms from other non-specific therapeutic benefits were basically nonexistent here.“
“That also presents an issue for blinding, since the “sham” vs. real interventions were obvious, leading to a lot of bias and placebo influence.“
“The p values are all over the place for each measured tender spot over time, most going from 0.6 to 0.03 between measurement periods. Some variation is normal, but they’re pretty extreme jumps. That’s a lot of discrepancy in reliability of results of the same painful areas over time.“
I realize that my own modality, myofascial release, has similar problems, as do many of the hands-on approaches used by physical therapists, massage therapists, and chiropractors.
On the Research Page of the Foundations Seminar website, there are dozens of published papers showing myofascial release to be a successful modality in the treatment of various disorders.
But all of those papers, while stating the oft-used and outdated explanatory model, do nothing to prove how MFR affects the body. They show the hands-on aspect to be helpful, but do not prove how it works. This is an important distinction that many therapists miss. When therapists place their hands on patients and interact in a manner that they were taught in their myofascial release (and craniosacral) training, the outcome is often positive. If we could just keep our language more general and avoid explaining the outcome based on outdated or false models, there would be less discourse when it comes to the claims of various modalities.
This does not diminish the effectiveness of MFR/CST, it simply should make you question the claims you were taught. If we spoke in more simple terms such as these, it would place most of the claims of many of the manual therapy modalities in question…which is not a bad thing!
As I increase my science and research awareness, I have allowed my language to be more accurate as well. Some might feel the opposite to be true, as I no longer sound so sure of myself and I no longer repeat inaccurate/outdated explanatory models using fascia as the primary source of pain, dysfunction, and “cure”.
MFR is effective, but I now know that the nervous system plays a much larger role than originally thought. The extent and manner in which the nervous system impacts my work has not been fully sorted, so I use a more broad explanatory model to explain my work to my patients and my students/therapists. I include past models of hypothetical fascial change as a frame of reference as well as a few different models of how the nervous system oversees all happenings. As some point, however, I will add:
When we place our hands on a patient and act/move in certain ways our patients improve.
If manual therapists and their teachers could be humble enough to speak in these terms I believe all of us would benefit. But this sentence is too simplistic for many. It doesn’t make the speaker sound informed. But it is bluntly honest and this is my goal.
So, challenge yourself to improve your research literacy. Question what you were taught and currently believe. I am doing the same. Accepting another person’s word at face value is rare, so why accept their explanatory model without questioning?
- Flipping the Script: Shared Decision-Making - January 17, 2022
- Are we the modality? A common denominator - September 12, 2021
- Putting Patient Preferences and Values Back In EBP - June 21, 2021
FTR, I am no longer with Tellus News Digest (not since early 2015) and am current writing and editing with Massage & Fitness Magazine and a few other private, independent works.
Thanks for spreading the message, Walt and Jamie! :D
Hi Nick,I’ve corrected the link in the original blog post but Jamie will need to do it on this post.