“Industry-sponsored research” is sometimes frowned upon by clinicians as full of bias and distorted facts. The sad fact is that not enough companies support research on their products; instead, they make unsubstantiated claims and false assumptions without any research at all. Clinicians often find it difficult to keep up with the literature to know what’s true and what’s not…often being suckered into believing what industry wants them to believe.
For nearly 20 years, Performance Health (since our early days as only “TheraBand” products) has invested in and vigorously supported research on our products. With the addition of several top clinical brands to our portfolio, our research database has grown to over 2000 references to support our numerous products, including over 600 supported studies. We encourage requests for product support used for research, and we provide a research agenda to develop projects that support our company priorities in providing safe and effective product use.
The mission of Performance Health Academy is “to support research that provides education and drives clinical practice.” Our philosophy is simple: use the best available evidence to support our products and help our customers. I remember a seasoned clinical researcher saying to me 19 years ago, “You don’t need evidence for TheraBand! Everyone knows it works!” How times have changed…
Pioneers in Product Research
Back then, we were among the first in the research industry to recognize the importance of “evidence-based practice.” Since then, we’ve been actively supporting external research through unrestricted grants and free product support around the world. It’s important as manufacturers that “we know what we know and what we don’t know.”
Performance Health is very pro-active in setting research agendas and asking questions about not only if our products work, but how and why they work. In fact, the researchers on our Scientific Advisory Committee (TRAC) are pioneers in the research on elastic resistance (obviously), topical analgesics, myofascial rolling, and kinesiology tape. For example, it was recently believed that myofascial rolling was actually affecting fascia; however, our researcher partners were the first to show the benefits of roller massage are due to neurological changes rather than fascial changes. Rather than waiting for the chance that a researcher will perform a study on our products, we invest in research even before the product is available in the market to support its use with evidence.
Research Adds Value: How The Investment Pays Off
On a balance sheet, the investment in research sometimes goes un-noticed by the bean counters in actual dollar signs. Instead, the value of industry investing in research comes from (1) gaining knowledge about product use for education, (2) supporting marketable claims, and (3) understanding the mechanisms behind the products to innovate new products.
Evidence-based practice requires evidence-based education. Not only do we teach clinicians the science behind our products to support clinical decision making, but we also teach the clinically proven protocols with our products. A landmark study by our research partners found the TheraBand Flexbar was highly effective at treating chronic tennis elbow, resulting in help for thousands of suffering patients.
Not only does research tell us how to use our products better, but it also supports the claims we can make about our products. We follow FDA guidelines as a medical device manufacturer for best practices in supporting claims of effectiveness with research. For example, our clinical research has demonstrated that elastic resistance training is as effective as traditional weights and machines at increasing muscle activation and strength.
Some companies promote unsubstantiated claims based on anecdotal evidence or a loose association rather than “causation.” For example, a manufacturer claims that Product “A” provides Benefit “B” because ingredient “C” is associated with Benefit “B.” This misleading cause and effect is considered “pseudoscience,” and is circumstantial evidence at best: the presence of ingredient “C” in product “A” does not cause benefit “B”!
Unfortunately, consumers are prone to believe industry pseudoscience. Sometimes, slick claims made by manufacturers are accepted as fact (without substantiation), and these myths are not only perpetuated by the manufacturer, but by clinicians, educators, and researchers as well. It’s important for clinicians to recognize pseudoscience and go beyond the claim, go beyond the abstract, and take the time to read the actual evidence themselves.
Our Pledge to Research
As a policy, we do not make unsubstantiated claims about Performance Health products. Combining both internal and external research, we are always able to back-up the claims we make about our products, making research freely available on the Academy website. Not only does this maintain our integrity in the industry, but most importantly, it gains trust from our customers and ultimately adds value to our products.
Performance Health does not restrict or withhold publication of “negative” outcomes of supported research. Researchers are encouraged to publish their results whether they are “good” or “bad” because they simply add to the body of knowledge. Knowing what “not to do” is as important as knowing “what to do.” In the end, we all need to know what doesn’t work about a product as much as what does!
In the early days of the exercise ball craze, people were using them to increase strength by performing bench presses on exercise balls. Our researchers showed that performing strengthening exercises on exercise balls is counter productive: strength output is significantly decreased when performing resistance training on unstable surfaces. Rather than encouraging people to use the exercise ball for strength training, we discourage using our exercise balls for strength training!
Also, we always disclose support of research, and strongly encourage our research partners to disclose support as well. All researchers are required to acknowledge potential conflicts of interest when publishing or presenting research to identify potential bias. We believe in full disclosure to allow clinicians to make informed decisions about research outcomes.
Becoming an Informed Clinician
Industry-sponsored research is not the demon it is sometimes made out to be; it’s obviously much better than making unsubstantiated claims. Full disclosure and balanced reporting of positive and negative results should be encouraged. As with any research, bias is inherent in many forms. Clinicians should always consider bias in research, but good science is easy to differentiate from bad science. As long as there are is adequate design, analysis, and interpretation, along with full disclosure, clinicians should use industry-sponsored studies along with other sources to make the best clinical decisions with the best available evidence.
Clinicians should use industry-supported research from companies with these policies:
- Provide a research agenda to support safe and effective product use
- Support unsolicited research requests
- Provide full disclosure of financial or product support
- Encourage balanced publication of unrestricted support, regardless of outcome
- Support claims with high-quality research
The Journal of Performance Health Research
I’m proud to introduce the publication of our companion journal, the “Journal of Performance Health Research,” (JPHR) an online, open-access, and indexed journal that will house original research on Performance Health products (www.performancehealthresearch.com). Scientific research using Performance Health products will be peer-reviewed by editorial board members. We believe offering this platform will provide faster publication of quality research that supports the effective and safe use of Performance Health products. The online journal will provide the ability for researchers to submit manuscripts electronically for peer review and provide free and immediate article access to clinicians and researchers. The Journal of Performance Health will continue to provide evidence-based practical content with immediate clinical application, including abstracts and summaries from the JPHR.