Foot and hand massage as an intervention for postoperative pain

Pain Manag Nurs. 2004 Jun;5(2):59-65. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2004.01.002.


Physiological responses to pain create harmful effects that prolong the body's recovery after surgery. Patients routinely report mild to moderate pain even though pain medications have been administered. Complementary strategies based on sound research findings are needed to supplement postoperative pain relief using pharmacologic management. Foot and hand massage has the potential to assist in pain relief. Massaging the feet and hands stimulates the mechanoreceptors that activate the "nonpainful" nerve fibers, preventing pain transmission from reaching consciousness. The purpose of this pretest-posttest design study was to investigate whether a 20-minute foot and hand massage (5 minutes to each extremity), which was provided 1 to 4 hours after a dose of pain medication, would reduce pain perception and sympathetic responses among postoperative patients. A convenience sample of 18 patients rated pain intensity and pain distress using a 0 to 10 numeric rating scale. They reported decreases in pain intensity from 4.65 to 2.35 (t = 8.154, p <.001) and in pain distress from 4.00 to 1.88 (t = 5.683, p <.001). Statistically significant decreases in sympathetic responses to pain (i.e., heart rate and respiratory rate) were observed although blood pressure remained unchanged. The changes in heart rate and respiratory rate were not clinically significant. The patients experienced moderate pain after they received pain medications. This pain was reduced by the intervention, thus supporting the effectiveness of massage in postoperative pain management. Foot and hand massage appears to be an effective, inexpensive, low-risk, flexible, and easily applied strategy for postoperative pain management.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Blood Pressure
  • Clinical Nursing Research
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Foot*
  • Hand*
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage / methods*
  • Massage / nursing
  • Massage / standards
  • Middle Aged
  • Midwestern United States
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis
  • Pain, Postoperative / physiopathology
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy*
  • Respiration
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics