The use of massage among people with hand pain resulted in decreased pain and greater grip strength, as well as lower levels of anxiety and depressed mood, according to recent research.

The study, “Hand Pain is Reduced by Massage Therapy,” involved 46 adults with hand pain. The subjects averaged 50 years of age, were of middle socioeconomic status and consisted of 83 percent Hispanics, 14 percent Caucasians and 3 percent African-Americans.

These participants were randomly assigned to either the massage group or a standard treatment control group.Subjects in the massage group received massage on the affected hand once a week for four weeks and were also taught self-massage on the hand, which was to be performed daily. Participants were called on a weekly basis to check on their ability to schedule daily sessions.

As for the once-a-week professional massage session, it consisted of 15 minutes of moderate-pressure stroking, concentrated on the fingertip to the elbow area.The massage began with stroking the hand up to the elbow and back down along both sides of the forearm, after which a wringing motion was applied to the same region.

Next, the massage therapist used the thumb and forefinger for circular or back-and-forth stroking motions. Each session ended with the rolling of the subject’s skin across the hand and up both sides of the forearm.

Participants in the standard treatment control group did not receive any massage therapy, but they were taught the self-massage routine once the study was complete.

The research outcome measures were grip strength, pain, anxiety, mood and sleep. Grip strength was evaluated using a talking digital hand exerciser, and pain was assessed on a visual analog scale.Anxiety was measured with the State Anxiety Inventory, and mood was measured with the Profile of Mood States. Sleep was assessed using a sleep scale, which consisted of a 15-item measure to determine effective sleep responses. Each of these assessments was made before and after the massage session on the first and last days of this four-week study.

Results of the research showed that the massage therapy group experienced decreased pain, increased grip strength, decreased sleep disturbances, decreased depression as well as decreased anxiety throughout the course of the study, compared to the control group.

“The current study suggests that the combination of therapist and self-massage as a more intensive therapy is effective and would likely be more cost-effective for reducing pain,” state the study’s authors. “Still other research might assess the effects of self-massage in other pain syndromes, such as lower back pain, fibromyalgia and migraine headaches, which lend themselves to self-massage.”


Authors: Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Miguel Diego, Ph.D., Jeannette Delgado, Daniel Garcia and CG Funk.

Sources: Touch Research Institutes, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, Florida; Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California; Massage Envy. Originally published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, November 2011; 17(4):226-9.