The ICF model provides an organized and detailed structure that researchers can use to examine outcomes of the holistic approach already commonly used by MT practitioners when evaluating and treating clients. Considering the complexities of the examples provided, it is unrealistic to expect a research trial—let alone a single practitioner—to include all, or even many, of the sample measures in a single study or treatment evaluation. We simply propose that researchers and practitioners who use the ICF model as a framework for study design and outcomes dissemination will be better equipped to convey their findings, and the importance thereof, to a broad audience.
The ICF model particularly supports translational research, allowing researchers and practitioners to focus more fully on specific domains while integrating, or at least acknowledging, the influence of other domains. A translational research team that focuses on outcomes related to physiological, functional, and psychosocial factors can easily be framed within the ICF model. Even if only a single domain is assessed in a particular study, the limitations posed by the other domains and the potential relationships between them provide a platform for discussion and open the door to future research. Use of the ICF model also facilitates effective dialogue between and among therapists and researchers.
In providing a framework for bench-to-bedside (or “cell-to-society”) research, the ICF model also facilitates a “So what?” dialogue. For example, so what if the ROM in an older adult’s shoulder improves? The answer is important because of the relationship of ROM with the ability to perform particular activities such as lifting the arm above the head. That physical ability is, in turn, related to an ability to participate in activities with meaning such as dressing, grooming, or hobbies, which are important for quality of, and engagement with, life; which allow an individual to live independently and to age in place; which are important for policymakers, because older adults living independently or aging in place equate to lower health care costs ... and so on, and so on. It can be challenging for professionals filling various roles in the MT field to understand the implications or importance of one another’s work. Use of the ICF framework can reduce the tendency for implications and relevance to be “lost in translation” during dialogue involving professionals from various areas.
Consideration of the ICF model in the development of research questions can also support translational research. For example, general research questions may include “Which contextual factors mediate the relationship between activity performance and participation,” or “Which variables in body structure and function converge to reduce the ability to perform a particular activity?” In a massage study, researchers may examine whether patient attitudes toward MT or previous massage experience (contextual factors) affect outcomes. Researchers may examine whether MT is effective on pegboard dexterity tests in older adults with arthritis and decreased wrist and finger ROM. More-specific research questions may include “Does increased ROM after MT result in increased participation,” or “Does combining MT with physical therapy after hip replacement increase participation?” Questions such as these can easily incorporate all aspects of the ICF model, allowing relevance and significance to translate to various subgroups of interest.
The benefits from applying the ICF model are not just relevant to massage research and practice. The ICF model can be used as a framework to connect dialogue for all three aspects of the MT field: research, practice, and education (). Use of the ICF model as a foundation for teaching MT would support the development of the critical and clinical thinking skills that make for effective practitioners. If MT students are taught this model, critical thinking skills will be cultivated and used from the beginning of their careers, allowing them to apply meaningful constructs to client assessment, clinical decision-making, outcomes examination, and therapeutic significance. This approach has the additional potential to create more versatility, with new therapist skill sets, particularly an ability to relate their work interprofessionally.
The International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) supports intra-field communication and also translational research.