Complementary alternative medical therapies for heart surgery patients: feasibility, safety, and impact

Ann Thorac Surg. 2006 Jan;81(1):201-5. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2005.06.016.


Background: Complementary therapies (touch, music) are used as successful adjuncts in treatment of pain in chronic conditions. Little is known about their effectiveness in care of heart surgery patients. Our objective is to evaluate feasibility, safety, and impact of a complementary alternative medical therapies package for heart surgery patients.

Methods: One hundred four patients undergoing open heart surgery were prospectively randomized to receive either complementary therapy (preoperative guided imagery training with gentle touch or light massage and postoperative music with gentle touch or light massage and guided imagery) or standard care. Heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and pain and tension were measured preoperatively and as pre-tests and post-tests during the postoperative period. Complications were abstracted from the hospital record.

Results: Virtually all patients in the complementary therapy group (95%) and 86% in standard care completed the study. Heart rate and blood pressure patterns were similar. Decreases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure in the complementary therapies group were judged within the range of normal values. Complication rates were very low and occurred with similar frequency in both groups. Pretreatment and posttreatment pain and tension scores decreased significantly in the complementary alternative medical therapies group on postoperative days 1 (p < 0.01) and 2 (p < 0.038).

Conclusions: The complementary medical therapies protocol was implemented with ease in a busy critical care setting and was acceptable to the vast majority of patients studied. Complementary medical therapy was not associated with safety concerns and appeared to reduce pain and tension during early recovery from open heart surgery.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diastole
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy*
  • Male
  • Massage* / adverse effects
  • Middle Aged
  • Music Therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control*
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Relaxation Therapy*
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Systole


  • Analgesics