Massage therapy significantly reduced levels of pain and distress, while boosting mood in pediatric patients with chronic pain, according to recent research.

The pilot study “Massage therapy in outpatient pediatric chronic pain patients: do they facilitate significant reductions in levels of distress, pain, tension, discomfort, and mood alterations?” involved 57 pediatric patients being treated for chronic pain at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, from July 2006 to May 2007.

The median age of participants was 13.9 years, with ages ranging from 9 to 19 years. The subjects were diagnosed with chronic pain, including headaches, peripheral neuropathy, abdominal pain, back pain, ear pain, CRPS type 1, fibromyalgia, ilioinguinal neuralgia, joint arhralgia [is this supposed to be arthralgia?] and sickle cell disease-related pain.

The massage intervention consisted of compression, fascial glide, petrissage, tapotement, effleurage and trigger-point therapy. A “no intervention” time period took place in a subset of 25 patients, in order to collect control data.

Subjects were assessed before and after the intervention by both a pain physician and massage therapist. Participants also rated their levels of distress, pain, tension, discomfort and degree of mood on a scale of one to five before and after each session.
Following the massage, the massage group reported highly significant improvements in their levels of distress, pain, tension, discomfort and mood compared with their pre-massage ratings.

In addition, the pain physician observed marked improvement in many of the patients’ range of motion, severity of edema, severity of muscle tension, muscle spasm and mood after massage.

No significant differences were shown in the group after the “no intervention” control period.

According to the researchers, the response of patients and parents to receiving massage therapy was “overwhelmingly positive.” With the success of this pilot study, the authors concluded that future research was warranted to explore the possibility of using massage in the management of chronic pain as an adjunct therapy to conventional pain treatment in pediatric populations.

“The results clearly demonstrate that massage, as an adjunct therapy for pain management, is worth investigating in the chronic pediatric pain patient population using more rigorous study designs,” said the study’s authors.

Authors: Santhanam Suresh, Sheila Wang, Suzanne Porfyris, Richard Kamasinski-Sol and David M. Steinhorn.

Source: Department of Pediatric Anesthesiology and Judith Nan Joy Integrative Medicine Initiative, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago, Illinois; Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Originally published in Pediatric Anesthesia (2008) 18: 884-887.