Massage, in combination with musculoskeletal physiotherapy techniques, led to an immediate alleviation of pain and greater ease of breathing among adults with cystic fibrosis, according to recent research.

The study, “The immediate effect of musculoskeletal physiotherapy techniques and massage on pain and ease of breathing in adults with cystic fibrosis,” involved 105 subjects.

These cystic fibrosis patients had a mean age of 30.5 years and none had received treatment for musculoskeletal pain in the previous three months. Seventy of the subjects experienced an acute exacerbation at the time of the study, and 35 were clinically stable.
Ninety percent of these patients reported chronic pain lasting at least three months prior to the intervention. The other 10 percent reported acute pain of less than three days duration. The most common regions of pain reported were the thoracic spine, shoulders, cervical spine, lumbar spine and chest wall.

Prior to the session of massage and musculoskeletal physiotherapy, each participant underwent a musculoskeletal and postural assessment of his or her primary regions of pain, which were marked on a body outline. In addition, ratings of musculoskeletal pain, as well as ease of breathing, were measured on a visual analog scale before and after each session.

The hands-on intervention consisted of a combination of spinal joint and intercostal mobilization, along with soft-tissue therapy and remedial massage. This lasted roughly an hour, and each subject received a single session.

Results of the research revealed, overall, there was a significant reduction in pain following touch therapy, with subjects in both the acute exacerbation and clinically stable groups reporting much less pain after sessions.

Ease of breathing also improved among the participants following these sessions, with patients in the acute exacerbation group experiencing the most significant improvements.

“While this current study only demonstrated short-term benefit, the reduction in pain and improvement in ease of breathing in all patients, irrespective of clinical status, suggests that this approach is worthy of further investigation,” state the study’s authors.
The researchers also note that the greater ease of breathing in those patients who were acutely unwell implies that “musculoskeletal limitations found during assessment not only contribute to the ease of breathing, but can be addressed by this form of treatment.”
They recommend further evaluation, with a longer period of study and greater frequency of hands-on intervention, to determine the full potential of massage and musculoskeletal physiotherapy for the alleviation of symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis.

Authors: Annemarie Lee, Melissa Holdsworth, Anne Holland and Brenda Button.

Sources: The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, Australia; La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia. Originally published in Journal of Cystic Fibrosis (2009) 8: 79-81.