A research study on the effects of massage therapy for cancer patients with metastatic bone pain indicates massage therapy can significantly reduce pain, improve mood and increase muscle relaxation.

The study, “Effects of massage on pain, mood status, relaxation and sleep in Taiwanese patients with metastatic bone pain: A randomized clinical trial,” involved 72 cancer patients between the ages of 27 and 81, with a mean age of 50 years. These subjects included 42 women and 30 men who had been diagnosed with cancer and recently admitted to an inpatient oncology unit. Types of cancer included lung, breast, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, head and neck.

More than half of the participants in this study had been admitted to the hospital for palliative care and had a life expectancy of less than six months. Among the 72 subjects, there was a mean number of 4.3 sites of bony metastases, with a mean pain intensity of 6.1 on a scale of zero to 10.

“Bone involvement, one of the most prevalent types of pain, afflicts 34 to 45 percent of cancer patients, resulting in intolerable pain, substantial morbidity and disruptions to quality of life,” state the study’s authors.

The research participants were randomly assigned to receive either three 45-minute sessions of massage or three 45-minute sessions of social attention, via the presence of a caring therapist, which served as the study’s control.

The full-body massage was performed by a registered nurse, and each session followed a standardized protocol of gentle effleurage, light petrissage, compression and very light brushing of the skin.

The social attention sessions involved the presence of a caring therapist, who avoided any direct touch and encouraged each participant to express his or her feelings and concerns about admission into the hospital.

The main outcome measure for this study was present pain intensity, evaluated on a visual analog scale. Secondary measures were mood status, muscle relaxation and sleep quality. Researchers also evaluated subjects’ symptom distress.

Baseline measurements were taken on day one of the study, and the massage therapy or social attention sessions took place on day two, three and four of the study, consecutively. On day five, final measurements were taken.

Results of the research revealed that three sessions of massage therapy significantly reduced pain, improved mood and increased muscle relaxation among cancer patients with metastatic bone pain. Significant improvements were not apparent among subjects in the social attention control group.

“Massage therapy outcomes showed significant improvements in pain, mood and muscle relaxation, and both mood and muscle relaxation measures showed linear (improving) trends over time,” state the study’s authors. “More importantly, the reductions in pain with massage were not only statistically, but also clinically, meaningful, and the benefits of massage therapy on muscle relaxation were sustained for at least 16 to 18 hours post-intervention.”

Authors: Sui-Whi Jane, Shu-Ling Chen, Diana J. Wilkie, Yung-Chang Lin, Shuyuann Wang Foreman, Randal D. Beaton, Jun-Yu Fan, Mei-Ying Lu, Yi-Ya Wang, Yi-Hsin Lin and Mei-Nan Liao.

Sources: Department of Nursing, Chang Gung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan; School of Nursing, Hung Kuang University, Taiwan; College of Nursing, University of Illinois at Chicago; Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, Department of Nursing, Administration Center of Medical Research Department, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Taiwan; Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, Psychosocial and Community Health Systems, University of Washington, Seattle. Originally published in PAIN (2011).