For women with upper-extremity pain and mobility issues after breast-cancer surgery, two half-hour sessions of myofascial massage per week for eight weeks resulted in significant improvements in these areas, according to recent research.

The study, “Myofascial massage for chronic pain and decreased upper extremity mobility after breast cancer surgery,” involved 21 women who were experiencing pain or limited mobility in their breast, chest or shoulder area three to 18 months after surgery for breast cancer.

The study was originally published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork; MASSAGE Magazine obtained the original study from its authors for this report.

Study Design

Subjects in the study were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or the control group. Those in the intervention group received two 30-minute sessions of myofascial massage per week for eight weeks, and each session focused on the breast, chest and shoulder of the affected side.

Those in the control group received two 30-minute sessions of Swedish relaxation massage per week for eight weeks, and each session avoided the affected breast, chest and shoulder.

The protocol for the myofascial massage was “developed for this study and included a variety of techniques aimed at reducing pain, inflammation and tissue sensitivity while also increasing mobility by breaking up scar tissue,” according to the study’s authors.

Outcome Measures

The main outcome measures in this study were pain and mobility. Pain was assessed via the McGill Pain Questionnaire, and mobility was measured using a survey developed specifically for patients who have undergone breast surgery. A secondary outcome measure was quality of life, which was evaluated using three questions from the Short Form Health Survey. These questions focused on “social activities, feeling downhearted and overall health.”

Assessments of each subject’s pain, mobility and quality of life took place at baseline—before any of the massage sessions occurred—and again after the eight-week intervention period had ended. Results of the research revealed a significant reduction in self-reported pain and mobility issues and a significant improvement in self-reported overall health among the women who received myofascial massage. Subjects in both massage groups reported decreased feelings of downheartedness.

Study Outcome

“Our findings suggest that women with chronic pain or mobility limitations should consider a trial of myofascial massage,” state the study’s authors.

“Physicians should refer women with persistent pain or mobility issues for massage treatments. It is possible that massage may enhance the effectiveness of traditional treatments, such as pain medication and physical therapy, or become another treatment option for challenging shoulder and chest wall issues.”

About the Author:

The authors of this study are Jeanne Massingill, Cara Jorgensen, Jacqueline Dolata and Ashwini Sehgal. Sources: The Oaks Massotherapy and Botanical Spa, Rocky River, Ohio; Center for Reducing Health Disparities, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; and Department of Internal Medicine, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio. Originally published online in August 2018 in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.