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Pushing back against that massage-for-exercise-soreness paper 

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Many massage therapists have cited this scientific paper lately because it confirms their bias that massage helps post-exercise muscle soreness. And no wonder! The conclusion reads:

Massage seems to be the most effective method for reducing DOMS and perceived fatigue.

So massage therapists were tripping over themselves sharing it on Facebook, retweeting it, and posting it on their clinic blogs. Such conclusions are literally good for business. “From the Department of the Obvious,” one MT quipped. Another triumphantly declared that it meant that “ gets it wrong again!” As if one new publication beats all the analysis of the evidence I’ve published here over the years. 🙄

But Dupuy et al is a classic “garbage in, garbage out” meta-analysis that establishes nothing … except, perhaps, the opposite of the “positive” conclusion. Just read the fine print! There’s a strong and classic pattern of publication bias in the data, with better quality studies finding nothing of interest, and the shittier ones consistently skewing towards the positive.

Alex Hutchinson wrote about this for Outside, and included a terrific summary of how publication bias is exposed by funnel plots — a must-read for anyone trying to make sense of research.

This kind of thing is the legacy of decades of publish-or-perish pressure in academia. Recovery science is a mess, most of the studies are just junk, and so most meta-analyses are too… and there’s a lot of them. John Ioannidis:

The production of systematic reviews and meta-analyses has reached epidemic proportions. Possibly, the large majority of produced systematic reviews and meta-analyses are unnecessary, misleading, and/or conflicted.

We never could take the conclusions of any kind of paper at face value, but meta-analysis has betrayed us so often that this entire category of scientific publishing now must be regarded with full suspicion — especially when it’s telling us what we want to hear.

PainSci Member Login » Submit your email to unlock member content. If you can’t remember/access your registration email, please contact me. ~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher