Increased job satisfaction and decreased severity of pain were the two main benefits of employer-funded massage therapy for a group of long-term care workers, according to a recent pilot study.

“The Effects of Employer-Provided Massage Therapy on Job Satisfaction, Workplace Stress, and Pain and Discomfort,” involved 145 health-care workers at a residential care facility for adults with severe disabilities. This facility had high rates of sick time and musculoskeletal injury.

Subjects were asked to fill out six surveys—three before the massage and three after the massage—that would help researchers evaluate the efficacy of employer-funded massage. These surveys included questions derived from the General Nordic Questionnaire for Psychological and Social Factors at Work, as well as the Brief Pain Inventory.

Massage sessions were provided by a registered massage therapist (RMT) at the facility for four weeks, Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Subjects could sign up for one 20-minute massage each week as a paid break in addition to his or her regular breaks. Four RMTs provided the massage sessions.

The massage therapy was performed with participants fully clothed and sitting prone on a massage chair. The bodyworkers all employed the techniques of tapotement, effleurage, petrissage, passive stretching, grade 1 or 2 joint mobilization and traction, and active and passive range of motion. The massage was limited to the neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back and arms.
Analysis of the six subject surveys revealed the reported severity of pain decreased significantly following the massage sessions, and job satisfaction showed a trend toward improvement. In addition, positive perception of massage increased significantly after the hands-on intervention.

“Results demonstrated initial benefits in terms of pain severity, with a possible improvement in job satisfaction and morale,” state the study’s authors. “Massage therapy appears to have a significant effect on pain severity and, therefore, the greatest benefit on individuals with pre-existing musculoskeletal symptoms.”

Although the immediate effects of massage were generally positive, the research did not show lasting, long-term effects. In fact, six weeks after the intervention, pain symptoms became worse, job satisfaction decreased and lower morale was observed.

“We concluded that health-care occupations are exposed to working conditions that result in injuries and low job satisfaction,” state the study’s authors. “Exposure to role conflicts and high workloads can overcome the benefits of massage therapy, unless the intervention is continuous.”

The researchers suggest employers evaluate methods of lowering workplace injuries, tension and stress in order to combat these health and safety hazards.

Authors: Chris Back, Helen Tam, Elaine Lee and Bodhi Haraldsson.

Sources: Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare in British Columbia, Vancouver Coastal Health and the Massage Therapist Association of British Columbia. Originally published in Holistic Nursing Practice (January/February 2009) 23 (1): 19-31.