The Intersection of Massage Practice and Research: Community Massage Therapists as Research Personnel on an NIH-funded Effectiveness Study
Introduction: Few NIH funded studies give community massage therapists the opportunity to become study personnel. A recent NIH/NCCAMfunded study investigating chronic low back pain (CLBP) recruited, trained, and utilized community massage practitioners (CMPs) as study personnel. This study’s aim was to determine whether health-related outcomes for CLBP improve when patients are referred from primary care to select CAM modalities including massage therapy (MT). The purpose of this paper is to report the results of the study’s three massage practice-driven study objectives which were to: 1) identify challenges and solutions to recruiting and retaining ample CMPs, 2) develop a practice-informed protocol reflecting real-world MT, and 3) determine the extent to which CMPs comply with rigorous research methodology in their clinical practices as study personnel.
Methods: Eligible CMPs in urban and rural Kentucky counties were identified through licensure board records, professional organizations, and personal contact opportunities. Interested CMPs completed 6 CE hours of research and Human Subjects Protection training and agreed to comply with a study protocol reflecting MT as practiced. Once trained, study CMPs were matched with study participants to provide and document up to 10 MT sessions per participant.
Results: Utilizing prominent MT community members proved invaluable to CMP recruitment and protocol development. CMP recruitment challenges included mixed interest, low number of available rural CMPs, busy clinic schedules, and compensation. Ethics CE credits were offered to encourage CMP interest. A total of 28 Kentucky licensed massage therapists with 5–32 years of experience completed study training. A total of 127 CLBP patients consented to participate (n = 104 for MT). Twenty-five CMPs were assigned CLBP patients and provided 1–10 treatments for 94 study participants. Treatment documentation was provided by CMPs for 97% of treatments provided.
Conclusions: When recruitment, retention, and protocol compliance challenges are met, CMPs are valuable study personnel for practice-based research reflecting real-world MT practice.