A 20-minute back massage enhanced mood and reduced stress in the spouses of cancer patients, according to recent research.

“The Effects of Therapeutic Back Massage on Psychophysiologic Variables and Immune Function in Spouses of Patients With Cancer” was conducted by staff at the Duquesne University School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Forty-two spouses, male and female, of patients with cancer participated in the study. They were randomly assigned to either the massage group or the control group.

Spouses in the massage group received one 20-minute back massage, consisting of long, slow strokes that produced a “sedative-like effect” on the subject.

Spouses in the control group read from an emotionally neutral book for 20 minutes. They each received a back massage after the study ended.

Outcome variables were mood, perceived stress, heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and natural-killer-cell activity. Natural killer cells are effective against virus-infected cells.

The outcomes were measured at three different time points: before the back massage or reading session, immediately after the back massage or reading session, and 20 minutes after the back massage or reading session.
Mood was evaluated on the Profile of Mood States. Stress was measured on the Visual Analogue Scale. Natural-killer-cell activity was analyzed by blood draws.

Immediately following the massage, and 20 minutes thereafter, spouses in the massage group showed a significant decrease in total mood disturbance on the Profile of Mood States and a significant decrease in perceived stress on the Visual Analogue Scale.

No significant changes were found for heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, or natural-killer-cell activity.
“It may be necessary to administer massage over several weeks to see an increase in [natural-killer-cell activity] because relaxation-induced immune function change is more than likely dependent on regular practice,” states the study’s author.

However, a correlation was made between mood and natural-killer-cell activity. Spouses with a high score for negative mood on the Profile of Mood States had lower levels of natural-killer-cell activity. Spouses with a lower score for negative mood had higher levels of natural-killer-cell activity. This revealed a significant inverse relationship between mood and natural-killer-cell activity.

“This research suggests that [therapeutic back massage] may benefit spouses of patients with cancer by enhancing positive mood and reducing perceived stress,” states the study’s author. “Thus, [therapeutic back massage] may help spouses face the challenge of living with and caring for an ill partner with cancer.

Source:  Duquesne University School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Author: Linda M. Goodfellow, Ph.D., R.N. Originally published in Nursing Research, September/October 2003, Vol. 52, No. 5, pp. 318-328.

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