Burn patients reported less itching, pain and anxiety, and an improvement in mood after receiving massage, according to a research study. The study, “Postburn Itching, Pain, and Psychological Symptoms Are Reduced With Massage Therapy,” was conducted by researchers at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine and published in the Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation.

Twenty adult burn patients were recruited from a university outpatient center to participate in the study. Individuals were in the remodeling (the reconstruction or reshaping of the wound as it heals) phase of wound healing, approximately 118 days after injury. They had moderate-sized wounds and complained of severe itching. They were randomly placed in either a control group or a massage group. Both groups received standard medical care that consisted of an examination by a doctor, medication and physical therapy.

Those in the massage group received twice-weekly, 30-minute massage sessions for five weeks. Massage therapists massaged the wound area with moderate pressure, using cocoa butter as a lubricant. Cocoa butter was applied to the wound area in a stroking manner, and therapists pressed along the wound edges and stroked toward the center of the wound. Massage therapists also used circular, transverse and vertical strokes for 10 minutes on the wound. The skin was rolled in all directions and then long, gliding strokes to the entire affected area were used to end the massage.

Measurements taken included an itching and pain rating based on the McGill Pain Questionnaire; the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), which measures feelings at the present moment; and the Profile of Mood States that measures depression. Results showed that those in the massage therapy group experienced a reduction in pain and itching, a decrease in anxiety and improved mood, as compared to those in the control group. The measures showed long-term improvement from the beginning to the end of the study.

“Our findings are encouraging because massage therapy provides a natural and effective alternative for the reduction of itching, pain, and psychological symptoms that are commonly experienced by patients with burns after they are discharged from the hospital,” the study authors wrote. “Future and long-term studies might examine enduring effects of massage therapy for scar tissue healing, including reduction of the height of the scar and improvement in vascularity, pliability, and pigmentation.”

Source: The Touch Research Institute. Originally published in the Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation, 2000, Vol. 21, pp. 189-93.