Massage was found to reduce both short- and long-term pain and anxiety among cancer patients with metastatic bone pain, according to recent research.

In the study, “Effects of a Full-Body Massage on Pain Intensity, Anxiety and Physiological Relaxation in Taiwanese Patients with Metastatic Bone Pain: A Pilot Study,” 30 cancer patients received one 45-minute massage.

In order to be eligible for the study, the patients had to be age 18 or older, diagnosed with radiologically evident bone metastases and experiencing at least moderate metastatic bone pain, with an intensity of four or more on a zero-to-10 scale.

The 45-minute massage was performed by an oncology nurse trained in massage therapy. Very light and gentle pressure with effleurage was used on the bony metastatic sites, and superficial tumors were avoided. Subjects were monitored consistently for the presence of escalating pain during and after the massage.

Outcome measures included feasability, or how well the massage was accepted by each patient, as determined by open-ended questions; levels of present pain intensity (PPI), which was measured on a visual analog scale; long-term pain levels, evaluated by the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire and the Brief Pain Inventory; anxiety levels, assessed with a visual analog scale; and physiological relaxation, reflected by each subject’s heart rate.
Results revealed that pain was reduced significantly after the massage and remained below baseline 16 to 18 hours later, when the study concluded. Anxiety levels among the cancer patients showed similar results. Overall, the mean number of pain locations at 16 to 18 hours was statistically decreased from baseline as well. No significant differences were found in heart rate before or after the massage.

Additionally, patient responses to general questions about the massage reflected the feasability of implementing full-body massage, as well as perceptions of benefit.

“This study demonstrated that a single session of full-body massage decreased pain intensity across time,” said the study’s authors. “Massage was shown to have immediate, short-term (10-20 or 30 minutes), intermediate (1-2.5 hours) and even long-term (16-18 hours) effects on decreasing PPI and anxiety. Clinically, the time effects of massage therapy can assist health-care providers in implementing massage therapy, along with pharmacological treatment, thereby enhancing cancer pain management.”

Authors: Sui-Whi Jane, Diana J. Wilkie, Betty B. Gallucci, Randal D. Beaton and Hsiu-Ying Huang.

Sources: Department of Nursing, Chang Gung Institute of Technology, Tao-Yuan, Taiwan; College of Nursing, University of Illinois, Chicago; Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems and Psychosocial and Community Health Systems, University of Washington, Seattle; Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington. Originally published in Journal of Pain and Symptom Management (2008).