At a New York cardiology center, massage therapists were able to incorporate a 10-minute massage in the time period between the patient’s arrival at the hospital and cardiac catheterization, according to recent research.

The study, “Massage Therapy for Patients Undergoing Cardiac Catheterization,” was conducted by Heather Okvat, Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., Windsor Ting, M.D., and Pearila Namerow, Ph.D., at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Besides evaluating the feasibility of massage before cardiac catheterization, researchers also evaluated whether massage reduced anxiety before, during and after the procedure; however, they discovered no such improvements.

Seventy-eight subjects, 59 men and 19 women with an average age of 60, participated in the study. Each person in the massage group received four minutes of massage on the right side of the body, followed by four minutes of massage on the left side of the body and one minute of scalp massage. Subjects in the control group spent 10 minutes of quiet time with a massage therapist.

“Of particular note was the physicians’ willingness to allow patients to enter the study (12 of 12 physicians agreed), physicians’ and nurses’ compliance in integrating study procedures into normal catheterization laboratory routines, and nurses’ voluntary allocations of time to assist with data collection and interpretation,” state the study’s authors. Anxiety, pain, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate were measured before the massage or quiet time, after the massage or quiet time, during catheterization and after catheterization.

There was no significant difference between the massage group and the control group in terms of the physiological outcomes or self-reported levels of pain and anxiety.

Researchers cited several weaknesses of the study, which may have contributed to the lack of improvement among massage-group participants: failure to approach patients about the study prior to their arrival at the hospital; interruptions from medical staff; a high noise level; standardized massage; and a short session time.

The results, state the study’s authors, “support the need for studies on a larger scale that would determine whether longer, more frequent, or more individualized massage therapy treatments would be beneficial in reducing anxiety and physical discomfort during cardiac catheterization.”

In terms of feasibility, however, the researchers were able to confirm that massage before cardiac catheterization is possible and that patients are interested in receiving massage therapy. Written, informed consent to participate was given by 70.4 percent of patients approached.

The study also established that “medical staff are supportive of the use of this complementary therapy in the acute care setting of the catheterization laboratory,” state the study’s authors. “Staff support was evaluated informally through their verbal comments and the research coordinator’s observations of behavior.”

Source: Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery of the Department of Surgery of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. Authors: Heather A. Okvat, Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., Windsor Ting, M.D., and Pearila B. Namerow, Ph.D. Originally published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, May/June 2002, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 68-75.

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