Integrative medicine services — primarily massage therapy — resulted in a significant reduction in pain among hospitalized patients, according to recent research.

The study, “Effect of Integrative Medicine Services on Pain for Hospitalized Patients at an Academic Health Center,” involved inpatients age 18 and older who requested integrative medicine services, such as massage therapy and acupuncture, at two Mayo Clinic hospitals.

Pain was the main outcome measure in this study, and it was assessed via the Numeric Pain Rating Scale before and after each integrative medicine session. Other research objectives were to track the number of requests for integrative services, as well as the reasons for these requests.

Study Design

During the three-month period from October 2017 to January 2018, a total of 1,220 integrative medicine services were provided to 578 inpatients at the two Mayo Clinic hospitals. Massage therapy accounted for nearly 90 percent of these services, with acupuncture rounding out most of the remaining 10 percent. About three percent of the inpatients requested relaxation techniques, such as paced breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness practices, meditation and visualization.

According to the study’s authors, Swedish techniques were used most often during the massage sessions. Other methods included reflexology, craniosacral therapy and acupressure. All massage sessions were performed by practitioners with certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.

As far as the reasons inpatients requested the hospital’s integrative medicine services, pain relief topped the list. The second most common reason for these requests was to help manage stress and anxiety.

Study Outcomes

In terms of the study’s main outcome measure of pain, the researchers found a significant reduction in pain scores after inpatients received either massage or acupuncture. No such improvement in pain was observed among the inpatients who requested relaxation techniques.

In a secondary finding, the researchers noted more than one-third of the inpatients who received integrative medicine services fell asleep during their service time, “suggesting that these services provided either relaxation or a reduction in pain to the point the patient was able to fall asleep.”

“Monumental” Potential

“The potential of helping patients sleep is monumental,” stated the study’s authors. “Most critically ill patients have trouble sleeping, leading them to become sleep deprived, which hinders the healing process.”

Authors: Stephanie D. Clark, Brent A. Bauer, Sairey Vitek and Susanne M. Cutshall.

Sources: Division of General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. Originally published in the January-February issue of Explore, 15(1), 61-64.