Small studies of variable quality suggest that massage therapy may relieve pain and other symptoms.
Dr Jean Kutner and colleagues evaluated the efficacy of massage for decreasing pain and symptom distress and improving quality of life among persons with advanced cancer.
The team enrolled 380 adults with advanced cancer who were experiencing moderate-to-severe pain, of which 90% were in hospice.
The intervention involved 6 separate 30-minute massage or simple-touch sessions over 2 weeks.
The team’s primary outcomes were immediate and sustained change in pain, measured by the Memorial Pain Assessment Card and the Brief Pain Inventory.
Secondary outcomes were immediate change in mood, measured by the Memorial Pain Assessment Card.
The team evaluated 60-second heart and respiratory rates and sustained change in quality of life using the McGill Quality of Life Questionnaire.
Symptom distress was assessed using the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale.
|Massage may have immediately beneficial effects on pain|
|Annals of Internal Medicine|
Analgesic medication use was determined by parenteral morphine equivalents.
Immediate outcomes were obtained just before and after each treatment session.
Sustained outcomes were obtained at baseline and weekly for 3 weeks.
The researchers evaluated 298 persons in the immediate outcome analysis, and 348 in the sustained outcome analysis.
A total of 82 persons did not receive any allocated study treatments, of which 37 were massage patients, and 45 control participants.
Both groups demonstrated immediate improvement in pain and mood.
The team found that massage was superior for both immediate pain and mood.
No between-group mean differences occurred over time in sustained pain, quality of life, and symptom distress.
The team reported possible bias and overestimation of a beneficial effect, as the immediate outcome measures were obtained by unblinded study therapists.
The researchers are uncertain about the generalizability to all patients with advanced cancer.
The differential beneficial effect of massage therapy over simple touch is not conclusive without a usual care control group.
Dr Kutner’s team concluded, “Massage may have immediately beneficial effects on pain and mood among patients with advanced cancer.”
“Given the lack of sustained effects and the observed improvements in both study groups, the potential benefits of attention and simple touch should also be considered in this patient population.”