researchA meta-analysis of 16 studies on massage therapy for pain among surgical patients found that massage effectively reduces pain and anxiety in pre- and post-operative patients. However, the review also found several weaknesses among these studies that could affect the ability to replicate results and translate them to clinical practice in massage programs for surgical patients.

The study, “The Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trails: Part III, Surgical Pain Populations,” involved a review of 16 studies on the use of massage therapy for surgical patients.

The hands-on techniques used in the 16 studies were described within each study as massage therapy, M technique massage, Swedish massage and effleurage. These were compared to various control groups, such as standard care, relaxation, attention and vibration therapy. As for the “dosages” of massage therapy and control comparisons, these spanned the spectrum from a single 10-minute session to 10-minute sessions each day for 12 days.

Results of the research showed that, compared to the control groups featured in these studies, surgical patients who received massage experienced reduced pain and anxiety.

However, the review also noted several shortcomings within these studies that may affect the ability to replicate the results or translate them to clinical practice. For example, the authors of the meta-analysis report a lack of specific details as far as the massage techniques used in these studies, the amount of time spent massaging each location on the client’s body and the qualifications of the people who provided the massage.

“The authors encourage future research to focus on identifying the specifics of massage, including style of therapy needed for different conditions or operative procedures, location of massage and amount of time spent there, appropriate pressure to apply, adequate dosing and time of administration, practitioner type, qualifications, and credentialing and licensing requirements,” state the study’s authors.

As a next step, the authors of the meta-analysis recommend the development of specific guidelines for massage therapy research in order to create a more stringent, uniform and standardized approach to all components of these interventions.

“There is a wide degree of heterogeneity among these studies that needs to be addressed in order to adequately influence policy change and make definitive recommendations regarding massage therapy,” the study’s authors conclude.


Authors: Courtney Boyd, Cindy Crawford, Charmagne Paat, Ashley Price, Lea Xenakis, Weimin Zhang and the Evidence for Massage Therapy Working Group.


Sources: Samueli Institute, Alexandria, Virginia. Originally published online in May 2016 in Pain Medicine.