One 15-minute chair massage per week for a total of 10 weeks resulted in significant improvement of stress-related symptoms and anxiety among both inpatient and outpatient nurses, according to recent research.

The study, “Feasibility and effect of chair massage offered to nurses during work hours on stress-related symptoms: a pilot study,” involved 38 nurses ranging in age from 21 to 65, with an average age of 47 years.

Six of these nurses worked 12-hour shifts, while the other 32 worked eight-hour shifts. Twenty-two of the nurses worked in an inpatient psychiatric unit, and the other 16 worked in an outpatient pain rehabilitation unit.

An e-mail invite to participate in the study was sent to 203 nurses in these two units at Mayo Clinic. The first 40 people to respond were enrolled in the study, but two were excluded due to missing data.

To make time for the weekly chair massage, the subjects were expected to use their scheduled break or have a co-worker cover for them during the 15-minute massage. The nurses signed up for the weekly chair massage using a centralized scheduling book.

A total of 400 massage appointments were made available for the 10-week study period, and three certified massage therapists, trained in relaxation and stress relief, were on-site from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. three days a week to provide the massage sessions.

Each session took place in a private room, with music offered and used as the nurses preferred. Subjects remained clothed for the sessions, seated leaning forward in a massage chair. Before the start of each session, the massage therapist would ask the nurse about any symptoms or requests, then tailor the 15-massage to best meet the nurse’s needs.

“For example, if the priority symptom identified was stress, the therapist adjusted the techniques to affect the parasympathetic nervous system, such as gradually slowing the pace and providing light, slow compression or strokes,” state the study’s authors. “If the priority symptom identified was pain, tightness or stiffness, compression and stretch techniques, joint mobilization, trigger-point pressure or acupressure was used.”

For the last few minutes of each session, the massage therapists focused on stimulating the nervous system to refresh and awaken the nurses before they went back to work.

Outcome measures for the study were the linear analog self-assessment scale, the Perceived Stress Scale-14, Smith Anxiety Scale and symptom visual analog scale. Each of these tools is used to assess levels of stress, anxiety, quality of life and related symptoms. The nurses completed these evaluation surveys before the start of the massage intervention, five weeks into the massage intervention and again at 10 weeks, after the massage intervention had ended.

Results of the research revealed symptoms related to stress and anxiety improved for the entire population of nurses enrolled in the study. Significant improvement of stress-related symptoms and anxiety was achieved at five weeks and persisted at 10 weeks.

“As can be expected, symptom improvement was significantly better in nurses working 12-hour shifts than in nurses working regular eight-hour daytime shifts,” state the study’s authors.

Close to 80 percent of the nurses reported they believed their overall job satisfaction improved due to the massage sessions, and about 60 percent of the nurses said they would be willing to pay $10 to $25 dollars for an on-site 15-minute chair massage during the work week.

“The present study demonstrates that it is possible to incorporate weekly 15-minute chair massages applied during work hours into the schedule of nurses in an inpatient psychiatric unit and an outpatient pain rehabilitation unit of an academic medical center,” state the study’s authors.


Authors: Deborah J. Engen, Dietlind L. Wahner-Roedler, Ann Vincent, Tony Y. Chon, Stephen S. Cha, Connie A. Luedtke, Laura L. Loehrer, Liza J. Dion, Nancy J. Rodgers and Brent A. Bauer.

Sources: Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Division of General Internal Medicine, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic, Division of Biomedical Statistics and Informatics, Division of Cardiovascular Surgery, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. Originally published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (2012), 18, 212-215.