Research Roundup: Massage Therapy for Pain Can Mitigate the Overuse of Opioids
Massage Therapy for Pain - Mitigating the Overuse of Opioids
Research shows massage therapy is a realistic approach to many forms of pain that can either replace use of drugs, such as opioids, or work in conjunction with non-addictive medicine for pain management. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has compiled some of the strongest clinical and consumer research on massage therapy for pain. 1, 2, 3, 4
Massage therapy is a well-accepted nonpharmacological therapy for managing pain, including a variety of specific chronic pain issues. It is recognized by the National Institutes of Health, and included in nonpharmacological pain guidelines issued by The Joint Commission for hospitals, as well as guidelines by the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards. And, consumers know from experience how massage can help manage their pain - in a 2017 consumer survey, 39% of those who had a massage in the previous 12 months sought it for pain, stiffness or spasms.
Addiction to opioids is a serious health issue in the United States, with more than 34,000 deaths in 2016. Massage therapy is a very real option for many forms of pain, with no risk of addiction.
Research on the benefits of massage therapy for various types of pain continues to grow.
- Crawford C, et al. The Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part I, Patients Experiencing Pain in the General Population. Pain Med (2016) 17 (7): 1353-1375. “Based on the evidence, massage therapy should be strongly recommended for pain management.”
- Boyd, C, et al. The Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part II, Cancer Pain Populations. Pain Med (2016) 17 (8): 1553-1568. “Based on the evidence, massage therapy shows promise for reducing pain intensity/severity, fatigue, and anxiety in cancer populations compared to the active comparators evaluated in a new systematic review.”
- Boyd, C, et al. The Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part III, Surgical Pain Populations. Pain Med (2016) 17 (9): 1757-1772. “The study concludes that patients should consider massage therapy as a therapeutic option to help manage their pain and anxiety from surgical procedures.”
- Nahin RL, Boineau R, Khalsa PS, Stussman BJ, Weber WJ. Evidence-based evaluation of complementary health approaches for pain management in the United States. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2016;91(9):1292–1306.
Research Roundup: Oncology
Increased Quality of Life While massage therapy is highly effective in soothing physical ailments, its benefits extend into many other areas. A 2014 study of patients with acute myelogenous leukemia who received 50 minutes of Swedish massage three times per week for seven weeks, found all participants experienced stress reduction, increased comfort and relaxation, while also tracking health-related quality of life (HQoL) compared to a group of usual standard-of-care patients. The HQoL scales were comprised of five functional scales (physical, role, cognitive, emotional and social) as well as two symptom scales (fatigue and nausea) and the global QoL scale, finding statistically significant increases in quality of life, when controlling for both stress and anxiety. An additional randomized study found providing therapeutic massage resulted in significant improvement in short-term quality of life for patients near the end of life, with secondary benefits of pain reduction and improved sleep. “Massage therapy can supply immense physical and psychological relief,” said Dr. Gabriel Lopez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. “As evidenced by the wealth of positive research in the area, massage therapy has the potential to greatly improve quality of life for cancer patients and their caregivers.” Recent studies show massage therapy can reduce pain, stress, nausea, depression, distress, anxiety and fatigue, while improving health related quality of life for cancer patients. According to the Mayo Clinic, one in three patients undergoing cancer treatment experiences cancer-related pain. Pain may be the result of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, or a symptom of cancer growth, which can destroy tissue and add pressure on nerves, bones and organs. A recent meta-analysis of nearly 600 cancer patients found massage therapy significantly reduced pain compared to the conventional standard-of-care alone, and was particularly effective in eradicating surgery-related pain. Massage is good medicine Research Roundup: Massage Beneficial in Oncology Care Read the research at amtamassage.org/ResearchRoundup How to Find a Massage Therapist Find a qualified massage therapist near you at FindaMassageTherapist.org Integration of massage therapy into cancer care relieves pain and improves mood in cancer patients and caregivers
Research Roundup: Massage for Pain Management
Pain can negatively affect a person’s quality of life and impede recovery from illness or injury. It can be occasional, acute or chronic, depending on whether the person has had an accident, is suffering from musculoskeletal dysfunction, or lack of movement or mobility.1 It’s important for individuals to consult with their health care provider for a diagnosis and advice on the best treatment options for their condition. One pain management strategy to consider is massage therapy, which recent research suggests may be a helpful aid for manually controlling symptoms in people suffering metastatic cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, among other illnesses, as well as post-cardiac surgery pain.
Here are some recent findings highlighting the role of massage therapy in pain management, compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association.
Massage Therapy for Improved Pain and Sleep in Metastatic Cancer Patients
Research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine2 found that therapeutic massage at home for metastatic cancer patients can improve their overall quality of life by reducing pain and improving sleep quality. American Massage Therapy Association President, Winona Bontrager, says of the study, “These findings suggest that cancer patients can also benefit from professional massage, both physically and mentally, providing the necessary comfort during advanced stages of the disease." Read more »
Massage Therapy for Decreased Pain in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
Research published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice3 showed that adults with rheumatoid arthritis may feel a decrease in pain, as well as greater grip strength and range of motion in wrists and large upper joints, after receiving regular moderate-pressure massages during a 4-week period. “This research demonstrates the potential value of massage therapy for the estimated 1.3 million Americans living with this chronic condition, with women outnumbering men 2.5-14. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are encouraged to speak with their health care provider about the possibility of incorporating routine massage therapy into their current treatment plan to help manage painful symptoms,” says American Massage Therapy Association President, Winona Bontrager.Read more »
Massage Therapy for Reduced Pain, Anxiety and Muscular Tension in Cardiac Surgery Patients
Research published in The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery5 indicates that massage therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety and muscular tension, as well as enhance relaxation and satisfaction after cardiac surgery. The American Massage Therapy Association acknowledges that cardiac surgery recovery is a very crucial time a patient must endure and this study further suggests that massage therapy can be a useful aid in making the road to recovery an easier journey. Read more »
Low Back Pain
Chronic low back pain sufferers find enduring results from massage therapy, according to a study conducted by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Center for Health Studies. The researchers plan to determine the specific components of massage therapy that contribute to its effectiveness.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine supported the idea that massage therapy produces better results for low back pain than other therapies, including acupuncture and spinal modification.
Massage promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety in patients with varying kinds of cancer, and has proven especially effective breast cancer survivors. Research shows therapeutic massage is an effective complement to traditional medical care for women undergoing lumpectomy, mastectomy or breast reconstruction. Pre-surgery, massage relaxes muscle tissue and increases the flow of lymph. Post surgery, women who apply specialized lymph drainage techniques from a well-trained massage therapist to their treatment may experience less pain and swelling.
In a study performed by the University of Miami School of Medicine, breast cancer patients who were massaged three times a week reported lower levels of depression, anxiety and anger. Benefits of massage after breast cancer treatment also include boosting the immune system and helping women reconnect with their bodies.
Other Kinds of Cancer
Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center asked cancer patients about the severity of their symptoms before and after receiving massage therapy, and patients reported reduced levels of anxiety, pain, fatigue, depression and nausea.
Heart Bypass Surgery
In-patient massage treatment performed after heart bypass surgery helps reduce pain and muscle spasms, confirmed by a pilot study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Because of its effectiveness, 60 percent of the massage group in this study expressed a willingness to pay for massage therapy out-of-pocket.
A review of more than a dozen studies concluded that massage therapy helps relieve depression and anxiety by affecting the body’s biochemistry. Researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine reviewed studies that measured the stress hormone cortisol in participants before and immediately after massage and found that the therapy lowered levels by up to 53 percent. Massage also increased serotonin and dopamine, which are both neurotransmitters that help reduce depression.
In a 2006 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, massage therapy recipients exhibited fewer migraines and better sleep quality than the control group. A 1998 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy decreased the occurrence of headaches, sleep disturbances and distress symptoms in adults with migraines.
A 2004 study by the University of Miami School of Medicine explored the effects of massage therapy on carpel tunnel syndrome. The study concluded that carpal tunnel patients receiving massage experienced less pain, reduced symptoms and better grip strength than patients that did not receive massage.
Research has shown that hypertensive patients who received three 10-minute back massages a week had a reduction in blood pressure, compared to patients who tried to increase relaxation without massage.
Research indicates that massage can help boost immune system strength by increasing the activity level of the body’s natural "killer T cells,” which fight off tumors and viruses.
Massage therapy benefits that are applicable to sufferers of any kind of pain include the stimulation of endorphin production in the brain and the encouragement of patient confidence in improving their condition.
Research Roundup: Massage for Mental Health & Wellness
Massage therapy is commonly used for relaxation and pain relief, in addition to a variety of health conditions such as osteoarthritis1, fibromyalgia2, and inflammation after exercise.3 Massage therapy can also be an effective therapy for aspects of mental health. Recent research suggests that symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression may be positively affected with massage therapy.
Below are some recent research findings which highlight the role of massage therapy in mental health and wellness, compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association.
Massage Therapy for the Treatment of Depression in Individuals With HIV
Research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine4 indicates that massage therapy can reduce symptoms of depression for individuals with HIV disease. The study lasted eight weeks, and results show massage significantly reduced the severity of depression beginning at week four and continuing at weeks six and eight. American Massage Therapy Association President Winona Bontrager says of the study, “This research suggests that regular therapeutic massage could be a useful tool in the integrated treatment of depression for patients with HIV.” Read more »
Massage Therapy to Reduce Anxiety in Cancer Patients Receiving Chemotherapy
Research published in Applied Nursing Research5 shows that back massage given during chemotherapy can significantly reduce anxiety and acute fatigue. “This research demonstrates the potential value of massage therapy within the full cancer treatment spectrum, particularly during the often mentally and physically exhausting chemotherapy process,” says American Massage Therapy Association President Winona Bontrager. Read more »
Massage Therapy for Reduced Anxiety and Depression in Military Veterans
Research published in Military Medicine6 reports that military veterans indicated significant reductions in ratings of anxiety, worry, depression and physical pain after massage. Analysis also suggests declining levels of tension and irritability following massage. This pilot study was a self-directed program of integrative therapies for National Guard personnel to support reintegration and resilience after return from Iraq or Afghanistan. Read more »
Massage Therapy for Nurses to Reduce Work-Related Stress
Research published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice shows that massage for nurses during work hours can help to reduce stress and related symptoms, including headaches, shoulder tension, insomnia, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. “This study affirms the important role massage therapy can play in the work setting, in this case to ease stress for health care providers who, in turn, can better provide optimal patient care,” says Bontrager. Read more »
Research Roundup: Low-Back Pain & Burn Scars
Two new independent clinical studies demonstrate that massage therapy eases pain and improves recovery time for people suffering from lower back injuries and burns.
“These findings emphasize what professional massage therapists know: massage is good medicine,” said Nancy Porambo, AMTA President. “Massage therapy provided by a professional massage therapist is being increasingly viewed by physicians and their patients as an important component of integrated care. Nearly 9 of 10 American consumers believe that massage can be effective in reducing pain. And, a growing body of clinical research continues to validate that.”
Massage Therapy Can Help Low-Back Pain
In a study published in the February 2014 edition of Scientific World Journal, researchers investigated whether chronic low-back pain therapy with massage therapy alone was as effective as combining it with non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs. The study was conducted on 59 individuals divided into two groups, all of whom suffered from low-back pain and were diagnosed with degenerative changes of the spine, other intervertebral disc diseases or spine pain.
In both patient groups, the pain measured was significantly reduced and the level of disability showed significant improvement compared to the baseline. Researchers concluded massage had a positive effect on patients with chronic low-back pain and propose that the use of massage causes fast therapeutic results and that, in practice, it could help to reduce the use of anti-inflammatory drugs in the treatment of chronic low-back pain.
1 Majchrzycki M, Kocur P, Kotwicki T. Deep tissue massage and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for low back pain: a prospective randomized trial. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014; 287597.
Massage to Reduce Burn Scars
In a separate study published in the March issue of the journal Burns, 146 burn patients with scars were randomly divided into two groups. All patients received standard rehabilitation therapy for hypertrophic scars – known as raised scars that are typically red, thick and may be itchy or painful—and 76 patients received additional burn scar rehabilitation massage therapy. Both before and after the treatment, researchers assessed the scar characteristics for thickness, melanin, erythema, transepidermal water loss (TEWL), sebum, and elasticity.
While both groups showed improvement, the massage group showed a significant decrease in scar thickness, melanin, erythema, and TEWL. There was a significant intergroup difference in skin elasticity with the massage group showing substantial improvement.
Researchers concluded that burn rehabilitation massage therapy is effective in improving pain, itching, and scar characteristics in hypertrophic scars after a burn.
Research Roundup: Wellness & Massage
A growing body of evidence shows that massage therapy can be effective for a variety of health conditions. Massage is rapidly becoming recognized as an important part of health and wellness, and research is indicating some of what takes place in the body during massage therapy.
Here are some recent findings on the benefits of massage therapy for health and medical reasons, compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association.
Massage Therapy for the Pain of Osteoarthritis of the Knee
Research supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) showed that sixty minute sessions of Swedish massage once a week for those with osteoarthritis of the knee significantly reduced their pain. Each massage therapy session followed a specific protocol, including the nature of massage strokes. This is the latest published research study indicating the benefits of massage therapy for those with osteoarthritis of the knee.
- The study involved a total group of 125 subjects, with 25 receiving the 60-minute massage over 8 weeks, while others received less massage or usual care without massage.
- Previous studies on massage for the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee showed similar results, but were on a more limited number of subjects.
Research Roundup: Massage for All Ages
Everyone knows that a good massage can make you feel like a new person. And now, people of all ages are beginning to understand the many benefits of massage therapy, including the role it can play in overall health and well-being. Recent research suggests that massage can enhance the immune function in preterm infants, decrease blood pressure and improve stability in older persons, as well as reduce stress and anxiety in cancer patients.
Below are summaries of recent medical research about massage compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association, which suggest that massage therapy can be an effective tool for a variety of health and medical conditions.
Massage Therapy for Improved Immune Function and Weight Gain in Preterm Infants
Research published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), showed that for stable, preterm infants, daily massage therapy is positively associated with higher natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity and weight gain. American Massage Therapy Association President, Cynthia Ribeiro, says of the study, “This research demonstrates that massage therapy can benefit preterm infants by enhancing immunity and stimulating growth. Parents of preterm infants are encouraged to speak with a certified massage therapist to learn more about certain techniques designed to aid in their child’s development.”