People who received massage therapy for three evenings in a row after undergoing cardiopulmonary artery bypass graft surgery showed significant improvements in fatigue and overall sleep quality, according to recent research.

The study, “Effects of massage therapy on sleep quality after coronary artery bypass graft surgery,” involved 40 patients who had undergone cardiopulmonary artery bypass graft surgery. Subjects in this study had a mean age of about 62 years, and roughly 68 percent were men.

The intervention period began the day after each patient was discharged from the intensive care unit. Twenty of the patients were assigned to a control group, while the other 20 were assigned to the massage group. For three days following discharge from the intensive care unit, subjects in the control group were instructed to simply sit in comfortable chairs.

As for the participants in the massage group, each one received three consecutive massage sessions, on days one through three following discharge from the intensive care unit. The massage sessions all occurred at about 7 p.m. and consisted of light compression that progressed to hard compression.

Manual kneading, friction on trigger points, cervical traction and mobilization in all planes—front, back and side—were included in each session. The massages closed with light, manual compression.

On the morning after each of the three days of massage therapy or comfortable sitting in the control group, researchers measured each subject’s levels of pain, stress, anxiety and fatigue, as well as overall sleep quality, using visual analog scales.

Subjects in the massage therapy group showed a significantly faster recovery from fatigue than those in the control group, and sleep effectiveness also increased significantly in the massage group as compared to the control group.

There were no significant differences between the massage and control groups in any of the other outcome measures. Complaints of pain in the chest, back and shoulders decreased significantly from day one to day three in both groups.

“[Massage therapy] promoted a faster decrease in complaints of fatigue in the [massage therapy] group participants than in those of the control group, reaching statistical significance by day one and day two,” state the study’s authors. “In conclusion, our data suggest that [massage therapy] is effective at improving the quality of sleep and decreasing fatigue in patients during the recovery period following [cardiopulmonary artery bypass graft] surgery.”

Authors: Flavia Baggio Nerbass, Maria Ignez Zanetti Feltrim, Silvia Alves de Souza, Daisy Satomi Ykeda and Geraldo Lorenzi-Filho.

Sources: Sleep Laboratory, Pulmonary Division; and Physiotherapy Division, Instituto do Coração, Hospital das Clínicas, Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil. Originally published in Clinical Science (2010) 65(11): 1105-1110.