Effective self-management is an established therapeutic goal for people living with and treating Chronic Pain (Borkan & Cherkin, 1996; Griensven, Strong, & Unruh, 2014) therefore understanding the extent and nature of daily self-management of Chronic Pain symptoms is important. Support groups can be a helpful tool as they allow members to share comparable experiences and similar challenges they may be facing, which can lead to the exchange of social support (Gottlieb, Maitland et al., 2013) and provide the opportunity for social comparison with peers (Campbell, Phaneuf, & Deane, 2004). Numerous studies in clinical populations of Chronic Pain sufferers have consistently shown that self-management of symptoms and the support provided by Chronic Pain community groups produce better outcomes (Cohen et al., 2000; Von Korff et al., 1994).
There has been little attention given to understanding the factors which may contribute to the success (or not) of online informal support groups during the course of their existence (Coulson & Shaw, 2013) and the composition of such groups on social media platforms such as Facebook. There is also limited research to examine factors that prompt individuals who are living with or caring for those with Chronic Pain to seek online support through informal support mechanisms, such as Facebook groups.
This thesis investigates the effects that social media has in the practice of effective self-management of Chronic Pain, focusing on informal closed support groups on Facebook and hopes to contribute to the understanding of self-management techniques used to address Chronic Pain. This chapter introduces the importance of social media as a support mechanism, outlines the rationale behind the research and the significance of this study.
Social media as a support mechanism
The increasing pressures that are facing our health care system can place burdens on patients; many have been waiting more than two years to see pain management specialists (Johnstone, 2013). There is mounting pressure regarding the importance of effective self-management of Chronic Pain, so that people have access to information and assistance without having to wait until it is too late (Blyth, et al. 2005). It is clear that good self-management is necessary for effective medical care for chronic illness (Von Korff et al., 1997) and social media is seen to be an effective mechanism for this; a study conducted by Professor Jenny Strong states that 21% of people used social media to find out about the pain experiences of others so as to compare it to their own conditions (Australian Nursing Journal, 2012).
Not everyone with Chronic Pain will want to, or be able to attend a face to face support group. It is important to consider other social networking options, which can include chat rooms, blogs or online informal social media support groups (Griensven, Strong, & Unruh, 2014). The management of Chronic Pain generally requires a broad whole person treatment approach which addresses the multiple aspects of pain and lifestyle.
As Web 2.0 is defined as the social and participative web with emphasis on social networking, media sharing and virtual communities (Anderson, 2007; Ravenscroft, 2009; Han, 2011) Facebook groups can be considered as the epitome of this definition. Research from Howell, Taylor et al, (2012) identified the effective use of Facebook groups as an inherent mechanism for support and creation of online community. This suggests an inherent impact on health status and enhanced quality of life for people with Chronic Pain, through engaging and sharing within these online environments (Merolli, Martin-Sanchez & Grey 2013).
Rationale for research
This thesis defines the role that social media plays in the self-management of Chronic Pain.
The shift from the face-to-face support group to an online support environment offer participants benefits that face-to-face groups do not: greater accessibility in terms of time and geographic proximity and the ability to obtain information without face-to-face interaction. Participation in online support groups can also be a source of empowering outcomes such as feeling informed, increased confidence with physicians, increased acceptance, confidence, optimism and enhanced social well-being (Blank, Schmidt, et. al., 2010)
Netnography will be put into place to enable the practice of cultural research online. Netnography is an ethnographic study that is undertaken within the online world. Through this method, various research practices are applied to help uncover and explore communities within an online realm and the cultures and groups that arise through computer mediated communication (Bowler, 2010). It has also been advocated by Belz and Baumbach (2010) that netnography is a “relatively new method to analyse online communities systematically” (p. 305). Participation in closed Facebook support groups is driven by the need for Chronic Pain sufferers and carers to seek guidance and assistance from a group of people who share comparable knowledge and experience of Chronic Pain. The reasons behind research into online communities are to expand upon knowledge of social networking sites as a means for gaining social support.
The aim of this study is to develop a fluid understanding of the creation of community and exchange of social support using use of social media, in the case of a closed Facebook group. Netnography is the most effective practice to measure and explore this occurrence.
Significance of study
This research explores how people living with Chronic Pain seek support and build online community through the sharing of analogous experiences. It is significant as it presents an alternative to the traditional face-to-face social support group and allows users to gain support and understanding about their conditions that they would otherwise not receive.
The management of Chronic Pain generally requires a broad whole person treatment approach and social media, with its ease of access and prominence in Web 2.0 ‘sharing’ culture could help sufferers gain ongoing support for their condition. Online support groups based on social media platforms have a great potential for a much larger and diverse group composition (Lowe et. al.,2009), which in turn allows members to potentially access a wider variety of information, advice and support (Coulson & Knibb, 2007).
Therefore, this thesis can benefit the industry by presenting a greater understanding of the latest trends in social media usage for the management of Chronic Pain. Exploring the composition of groups, themes that are discussed and the level of engagement taking place within these groups, along with the perceived benefits of these groups from their members will create a new level of understanding of this type of social support. This research paves the way for the use of informal support networks through social media platforms such as Facebook and their place as an effective part of Chronic Pain self-management practices.