They Did a Study

If I try a form of treatment and my pain gets better I’ll probably believe the treatment worked. But if I tell you the treatment worked you have only my word for it. Neither of us know for certain if I got better because of the treatment or if I got better because of other factors that could have affected my pain including bias, belief, a warm empathic therapist, a change in life circumstance or some other treatment I was getting at the same time.

Although personal experience that a treatment works (or seems to work) is compelling evidence to all of us, logic dictates that the strongest evidence for a treatment comes from controlling non-treatment factors that could affect pain.

This is often a tough job and designing a good study requires training in logic, statistics and probability, not to mention knowledge of the condition under study and its other treatments. Honesty, an open mind and objectivity are equally important when it comes to good research. This is a tall order and we humans often fail to live up to the high standards required for good study design. As with all human endeavors some research is good and some not so much.

An important benefit of good research is to allow us to determine the degree of confidence we can place in claims made about any kind of treatment, medical, surgical or otherwise. Well-controlled studies provide evidence that is objectively verifiable so paying customers can make rational decisions instead of being swayed by emotion. Good research is a bulwark against superstition, quacks and clever marketing. Sadly, good research is hard to find when it comes to pain in particular.

Understanding how research works and what makes a study strong or weak also requires knowledge and some brain sweat.  Research is published with the idea that everyone who reads the study can see the flaws in design and use that understanding to design better research. Work and study are involved and it is easier for most of us to accept the evidence of personal experience as the highest form of evidence (saves a lot of reading boring scientific literature) instead of examining our experience critically.

If you believe you have discovered something that would benefit pain patients and want to have the best possible evidence that it really does work then I would suggest seeking the advice of a statistician and research scientist to help you design an appropriate study. This takes time and money but sometimes the old saying about getting what you pay for is true.