A seminal study of massage on cancer patients has shown that the intervention reduces the level of pain and anxiety these patients experience during treatment for the disease.

The study, conducted over four years at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, sought empirical evidence for the efficacy of massage on cancer patients experiencing pain in the course of treatment.

“The research on the use of massage with cancer patients has been minim[al] because massage therapy schools teach their students that massage is contraindicated with cancer patients,” reported Pauline King, a mental health clinical nurse at the hospital, who led the study.

“We are always probing, sticking and doing other invasive treatments with cancer patients who are often touch deprived,” King continued. “It was felt strongly that the patient needed caring touch as an antidote to the invasive procedures.”

The study, which concluded in late 1999, was funded by a $10,000 grant from the AMTA Foundation. Its results have been widely reported by national media.

For the study, 52 cancer patients receiving treatment at the hospital, which is affiliated with Ohio State University, were randomly placed into either an experimental group or a control group.

On the first day of the two-day study patients in both groups had a volunteer simply sit with them for 15 minutes, but had no physical contact. On the second day patients in the experimental group received petrissage on the hands, feet, shoulders and back of the neck for 15 minutes. Patients in the control group again sat with a volunteer for 15 minutes, but had no physical contact.

Pain and anxiety levels were measured on both days before the intervention, directly following, and again 30 minutes later. Pain levels were measured by a Visual Analogue Scale in which patients rated the severity of their pain on a scale from 0-10, with 0 equaling no pain and 10 equaling the worst pain possible. Anxiety, which was defined as “tension, apprehension, nervousness and worry,” was measured using the Spilberger STAIT-TRAIT Anxiety Inventory, by which patients rated their own anxiety levels.

Data analysis showed the massage had a statistically relevant impact on pain and anxiety levels of patients in the experimental group compared to those in the control group. Overall, patients who received massage showed a .9 difference (drop) in pain level, versus no change in pain level for those in the control group.

“This study is a seminal study that produced empirical evidence on the efficacy of massage on cancer pain and anxiety,” the report concluded. “More hard data studies are needed in order to bring massage in the medical systems where it is most needed.”

An addendum to the study findings was the positive feedback the researchers received from the hospital’s medical staff, in regard to the massage protocol. “Even before the study was completed, doctors and nurses were consulting the primary investigator to give their patients a massage,” King reported. “The study raised the consciousness of the medical practitioners, which was another very positive outcome of this study.”

Source: Pauline King, Ohio State University.

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