Many Massage Therapists, chiropractors and other professional therapists have heard at some point in their careers about the biopsychosocial model, which in massage relates to pain. But, what does it mean.
Many publications define it, more or less as: “The biopsychosocial model states that health and illness are determined by a dynamic interaction between biological, psychological, and social factors.”
However, when it comes to massage therapy, it changes a little bit, as it includes: physiology, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, culture, and beliefs.
History Of The Biopsychosocial Model
We have to start from the beginning: where and when did the biopsychosocial model first appear? It was a framework introduced by George L. Engel in 1977. From there it has been developed and discussed, but pretty much what it suggests is that there are more than just biological and physical causes for diseases or health problems.
There is a psychological side, where lack of self-control, emotional turmoil or even negative thinking, may lead to health problems. Then it also adds a social side, in which different factors such as socioeconomic status, culture, technology and even religion may influence health.
Furthermore, the model implies that to treat diseases and health issues, there must be a biological, psychological and social intervention.
Biopsychosocial Model In Massage Therapy
When it comes to massage therapy, the model is also applicable, and can also be treated according to what Engel had initially suggested. Nonetheless, there are a few differences.
Since you are not curing cancer, diabetes or have the power to give medication, you must treat the biopsychosocial model a bit differently. As MTs, it will mostly be linked to pain relief.
Of course trigger points can help the therapist understand how to help the patient. Also, asking some background questions is routine. Then, hands to action, whether Swedish, Thai, Shiatsu, or any other therapy can help relieve pain, but different patients either react differently to the therapies, or prefer a specific one.
That is related to the model.
Now, as an MT you must know that sensations of pain are governed by the tissue area affected, but also by the client’s or person’s central nervous system. You might be surprised, but the pathway, which runs through the central nervous system, is learned, so a bad pain can be memorized, and as such become recurrent. That’s why proper therapy is fundamental; to ease the pain, not increment it.
How To Apply The Model To Relieve Pain In Clients?
The MT must address the client in a psychological and social way too. This might be uncomfortable at the beginning, also hard, since the client comes to get a massage and doesn’t see the MT as a doctor or a person capable of curing them. They see MTs as professionals that can relieve pain or stress.
However, building a bond, especially with returning clients is a great way of understanding what can be stressing them, what is the cause of the pain: sports, bad posture, too much work, sudden movements, or something else?
From there, a profile can start to be built. For example, understanding the psychological state of the client, if he or she is under too much stress, that might help. Or if it simply was a sports related injury, that too.
From there the social issue, what else is the client doing to treat the pain?
A good way of making the model work to its full would be to contact other medical specialists the client might be seeing, if they are. That way, with the help of specialists and doctors it can be determined, at full, what can be causing the pain, or how to address a full personal recovery for the client.
It’s common to see, for example, many athletes suffer injuries, or pain, from which they have trouble fully recovering as they say they still feel in pain. However, that pain can also be a psychological one, to a certain extent. So an MT can identify it as acute, sub-acute, and chronic muscular or any other type, but if the athlete is being completely negative or scared of going back into the field or track, it will be hard to overcome it. The psychological side should be addressed to with the backing of another specialist.
Remember that as an MT you also have a big responsibility on the wellness of the clients. Despite them not being regulars, they come for help, on some occasions, and should be treated with care. Understanding them, knowing the nature of their pain, is key to having a successful therapy and recovery. And if you feel that there must be a follow up, or the backing of another specialist, say it to the client, advice him or her to address those other issues, since their health and wellbeing are very important. And hopefully, you will be able to be more effective as a professional if you decide to study more into the model and try using it!