Qualitative Research on Massage Therapy for Chronic Pain in Adults
Qualitative research is an invaluable approach in health care research, especially when researching topics about which there is little knowledge and cannot be fully understood through quantitative methods. By exploring the lived experiences of those providing and receiving massage therapy, as well as their interpretations of its significance, qualitative research provides a deeper insight into what massage therapy actually entails and its impacts on people’s lives.
The experience of massage therapy in the context of chronic pain is complex and difficult to assess quantitatively. To explore this further, this study focused on exploring the experiences and perceptions of adults with various levels of experience with massage therapy. Results indicate that meaningful rehabilitation is associated with factors such as having a reliable therapist who can act as a guiding partner and who ‘knows’ chronic pain more intimately than other therapists do.
Biomedical theory often stresses the importance of therapists creating boundaries around their personal experiences and interests, which then become central components in treatment sessions. But this approach can be problematic when clients desire a more genuine and meaningful rehabilitation encounter.
However, this study suggests the concept of professional-client boundaries can be reframed to fit more closely with client-centred approaches to rehabilitation. Doing so may prompt therapists to be more compassionate, honest and nonjudgmental in their approach – ultimately leading to the formation of a deeper bond with their patient.
Participants frequently mentioned the concept of ‘credible’ therapist in relation to professional knowledge and behavior that displayed a biopsychosocial perspective. This finding was encouraging as it implies the need for further training in psychosocial skills and attitudes necessary for such therapeutic encounters (Table 2).
Participants identified this concept as being an important one when considering chronic pain management. In this scenario, therapists are perceived as supportive, compassionate and non-judgmental guides throughout this journey. This may help therapists be more patient and empathetic with their approach towards clients – something essential in promoting self-efficacy and confidence during management of pain experiences.
Participants mentioned reappraising the therapist’s ‘knowledge’ of chronic pain when discussing this theme. Participants saw the therapist as someone who could offer alternative perspectives on treating and managing their discomfort; additionally, they saw them as someone who would ‘check-in’ with them regularly to develop strategies to self-manage their experience of discomfort.
These findings support those in the medical community who have advocated for a reappraisal of the biopsychosocial approach to diagnosis and management of chronic pain. Furthermore, they refute an often held assumption that therapists are simply teaching their patients something; instead, demonstrating an impressive degree of expertise within chronic pain management.