A new meta-analysis of seven studies has found that adult subjects with shoulder pain showed a significant improvement in shoulder range of motion—especially flexion and abduction—after receiving massage. This makes massage for shoulder pain a real solution.

A new meta-analysis of seven studies has found that adult subjects with shoulder pain showed a significant improvement in shoulder range of motion—especially flexion and abduction—after receiving massage.

In the U.S., shoulder pain is in the top seven types of pain reported by adults.

The complete list, according to the report Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, is:

  • Low back pain (28.1 percent)
  • Knee pain (19.5 percent)
  • Severe headache or migraine (16.1 percent)
  • Neck pain (15.1 percent)
  • Shoulder pain (9.0%)
  • Finger pain (7.6 percent)
  • Hip pain (7.1 percent)

The study, “Effectiveness of massage therapy on the range of motion of the shoulder: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” focused on seven published studies with a total of 237 participants, all of whom were 18 or older and experiencing shoulder pain.

Within these studies, subjects were assigned to either a massage group or a comparison group.

Types of Massage

For the intervention phase of each study, massage therapy was provided alone or in combination with other interventions.

The types of massage used in these studies included sports massage, manual pressure release and soft tissue massage. The number of massage sessions ranged from five to 36, and session length varied from five to 45 minutes.

Comparison groups across the seven studies received either no intervention, a placebo intervention or an intervention other than massage, such as acupuncture, exercise, physical therapy or hot-pack application.

This Technique Helped Shoulder Pain Most

The main outcome measures of the research centered on shoulder range of motion, including flexion, extension, abduction, internal rotation and external rotation.

Results of the meta-analysis showed a significant improvement in shoulder range of motion, particularly flexion and abduction, following massage.

“The study results suggested that there is evidence of the efficacy of massage therapy for improving the shoulder ROM, especially flexion and abduction,” state the authors of the review. “The effect sizes for flexion and abduction were large and robust.”

As far as which method of massage was the most effective, the authors of the meta-analysis report that sports massage had the largest significant effect on all outcomes related to shoulder range of motion.

In the paper, they define sports massage as a modality that includes techniques such as effleurage, petrissage and friction.

Another factor highlighted in the review is the link between age, pain, limited function and lower quality of life. Among the seven studies analyzed, three involved subjects ages 60 and older.

Massage for Older People

The authors of the meta-analysis point out that older people often report greater pain and reduced physical function—and that massage may be a valuable tool when it comes to increasing their overall quality of life.

“In particular, shoulder pain and shoulder ROM limitation causes independent competence disability, including in dressing or hygiene management, which elderly people must conduct by themselves in their everyday lives,” state the review’s authors.

“Elderly people’s inability to manage themselves without the help of another person causes their … depression and may have a significant impact on their quality of life. Therefore, it is thought that massage that increases the shoulder ROM can improve the quality of life of elderly people.”

Meta-Analysis Author: Young-Ran Yeun Sources: Department of Nursing, Kangwon National University, Korea. Originally published in February 2017 in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 29(2), 365-369.

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