Massage therapy reduced psychological and physical distress among children with cancer and blood diseases, thereby contributing to a general improvement in overall quality of life among subjects, according to recent research.

The study, “Children with Cancer and Blood Diseases Experience Positive Physical and Psychological Effects from Massage Therapy,” involved 30 children with cancer or blood disease, ranging in age from six months to 17 years.

Fifteen females and 15 males participated in the study. Fourteen of the subjects were inpatients, while 16 were outpatients. These subjects were randomly assigned to either the massage group or the control group, with an assortment of males and females in each group.
Inpatients in the massage group received 20 minutes of massage each day for four days. Outpatients in the massage group received 20 minutes of massage once a week for four weeks. Those in the control group received no massage therapy.

A Swedish massage protocol was used, including effleurage, petrissage, percussion, compression and friction. The massage was given on areas most comfortable for the subject, typically the hands, feet, arms, neck, back and shoulders. Subjects were not required to disrobe, and a parent or legal guardian was present during the massage.

Subject evaluations took place before and after each of the four massage sessions. These evaluations included vital signs, discomfort level, muscle soreness and emotional data. Following the second, third and fourth sessions, researchers collected data on general clinical progress. Before the first and after the last massage, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children and the Child Health Questionnaire for parents were completed.

Results of the research revealed significantly less muscle soreness among members of the massage group after the intervention, with no such changes in the control group. The discomfort level of the massage group also decreased significantly, as did the respiratory rate in this group as a whole.

Mean values of the state anxiety scores decreased significantly in the massage group, and this group reported significantly less trait anxiety as well. In terms of emotional data, subjects who received touch therapy reported feeling significantly better.

“As seen in other cancer studies, our findings in this study are consistent with the positive rehabilitative effect of [massage therapy],” state the study’s authors. “Physiologic measures suggest that MT reduced muscle soreness, discomfort and respiratory rate.

“Psychological measures indicate that MT reduced state and trait anxiety and positively influenced overall emotional well-being,” they continued. “Additionally, the general clinical progress found in the treatment group suggests that MT can provide a general improvement in quality of life.”

Authors: Jolie N. Haun, John Graham-Pole and Brendan Shortley.

Sources: University of Arizona, Tucson, College of Medicine; Cancer Center, Shands Hospital at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Originally published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (June 2009) 2(2): 7-14.