Two 20-minute massage sessions three or more days after cardiac surgery resulted in significant reductions in anxiety, pain and muscular tension, along with significant increases in relaxation and satisfaction among postoperative patients, according to recent research.

The study, “Massage therapy for cardiac surgery patients—a randomized trial,” involved 152 patients who underwent coronary artery bypass graft surgery, valve surgery or both. These patients were randomly assigned to receive either massage therapy or an equal amount of rest time on day three or four and again on day five or six after surgery.

Subjects in the massage group received 20 minutes of customized massage therapy in their room and were given the option to either stay semi-reclined in bed or sit on the edge of the bed or in a chair. The practitioners were given a guide regarding the main techniques to be used, and then adapted these techniques according to each patient’s presentation and preferences.

“Instead of following a strict regimen of predefined steps … this method of patient-therapist discussion and feedback more closely aligns with how treatment is delivered outside of the patient/hospital setting,” state the study’s authors, “and is in accordance with the principles of patient-centered care.”

Subjects were given a choice of areas to be massaged, including the shoulders, back, neck, hands, feet or legs. The practitioners primarily used Swedish massage techniques and moderate pressure, taking care to avoid any sites where medical apparatus was attached or surgical wounds were present.

Patients in the control group received 20 minutes of rest time in their room and were encouraged to spend that time relaxing quietly in bed or in a chair. During this time, a sign was posted on the patient’s door to discourage disturbances and all visitors were asked to leave.

As far as outcome measures, visual analog scales were used to measure the patients’ perception of pain, anxiety, muscular tension, relaxation and satisfaction before and after each intervention session. A cardiac nurse measured each patient’s blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate before and after each session as well. All assessments occurred within 10 minutes before and after each intervention session.

Results of the research showed that massage on day three or four and on day five or six resulted in significant reductions in both pain and anxiety. No such changes occurred in the control group at either of the two session times.

The data also revealed a significant increase in relaxation after receiving massage therapy on day three or four and again on day five or six. The control group also showed a significant increase in relaxation on day three or four, but there was no such significant change on day five or six.

“For both treatment periods combined, massage was shown to be superior to rest time for improving the relaxation scores,” state the study’s authors.

Patients who received massage therapy also reported significant reductions in muscular tension on both days three or four and five or six. Rest time also resulted in significant decreases in muscular tension on day three or four, but not on day five or six.

“For both periods combined, the data confirmed that massage resulted in a greater reduction in muscular tension scores than rest time,” state the study’s authors.

In terms of patient satisfaction, a significant increase was reported on day three or four following the massage session, with no such changes found among patients in the control group. There were no significant between-group differences as far as blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate.

“The combined results we have presented have con- firmed that postoperative massage therapy delivered from day three onward to cardiac surgery patients represents a useful adjunct to standard care for relieving patient discom- fort and providing both physical and psychological benefits to enhance their hospital stay,” state the study’s authors.

Authors: Lesley A. Braun, Catherine Stanguts, Lisa Casanelia, Ondine Spitzer, Eldho Paul, Nicholas J. Vardaxis and Franklin Rosenfeldt.

Sources: Cardiothoracic Surgical Research Unit, Department of Surgery, Monash University Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Pharmacy Department, Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Academic Division, Endeavour College of Natural Health, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; and Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Originally published in The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery in December 2012.

This research report ran in the print edition of MASSAGE Magazine‘s September 2013 issue.

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