A 20-minute foot-and-hand massage significantly reduced subjects’ perception of pain intensity and distress the day after surgery, and also lowered their heart and respiratory rates, according to a recent study.

“Foot and Hand Massage as an Intervention for Postoperative Pain” was conducted by staff at Clarion Health Partners Methodist Hospital and Indiana University School of Nursing, in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Eighteen subjects who underwent surgery participated in this study the day after their operations. Participants were age 20 or older, and recovering from gastrointestinal, gynecological, urological, head, neck or plastic surgery. They each received pain medication one-to-four hours before the massage intervention and had asked for an intervention to relieve their pain the day after surgery. All subjects reported that the surgical wound was the area that hurt most.

Pain intensity and distress scores, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure were measured before and immediately after the 20-minute massage. Subjects were also asked to rate the percentage of pain relief from the pain medication before the massage and the percentage of pain relief from the massage following the intervention.
The same person provided the foot-and-hand massage to all participants. The massage consisted of petrissage, friction and kneading for five minutes on each hand and each foot, for a total of 20 minutes.

Perceived pain intensity was measured using a scale that ranged from 0 (no pain) to 10 (pain as bad as you can imagine). Perceived distress was measured on a similar scale, ranging from 0 to 10. Perceived pain relief, from both the pain medication and the massage intervention, was measured on a percentage scale, ranging from 0 percent (no relief) to 100 percent (complete relief).

Results of the study showed significant reductions in both pain intensity and distress after the 20-minute massage, as well as significant decreases in heart rate and respiratory rate, but not systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

“The findings from the study indicated that a 20-minute foot and hand massage significantly reduced both pain intensity and distress resulting from incisional pain on the first postoperative day,” state the study’s authors. “Foot and hand massage appears to be an effective, inexpensive, low-risk, flexible, easily applied strategy for postoperative pain management.”

Source: Clarion Health Partners Methodist Hospital and Indiana University School of Nursing, Indianapolis, Indiana. Authors: Hsiao-Lan Wang, R.N., and Juanita F. Keck, R.N. Originally published in Pain Management Nursing, June 2004, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 59-65.