Acute postoperative pain management using massage as an adjuvant therapy: a randomized trial

Arch Surg. 2007 Dec;142(12):1158-67; discussion 1167. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.142.12.1158.


Hypothesis: Adjuvant massage therapy improves pain management and postoperative anxiety among many patients who experience unrelieved postoperative pain. Pharmacologic interventions alone may not address all of the factors involved in the experience of pain.

Design: Randomized controlled trial.

Setting: Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Indianapolis, Indiana.

Patients: Six hundred five veterans (mean age, 64 years) undergoing major surgery from February 1, 2003, through January 31, 2005.

Interventions: Patients were assigned to the following 3 groups: (1) control (routine care), (2) individualized attention from a massage therapist (20 minutes), or (3) back massage by a massage therapist each evening for up to 5 postoperative days. Main Outcome Measure Short- and long-term (> 4 days) pain intensity, pain unpleasantness, and anxiety measured by visual analog scales.

Results: Compared with the control group, patients in the massage group experienced short-term (preintervention vs postintervention) decreases in pain intensity (P = .001), pain unpleasantness (P < .001), and anxiety (P = .007). In addition, patients in the massage group experienced a faster rate of decrease in pain intensity (P = .02) and unpleasantness (P = .01) during the first 4 postoperative days compared with the control group. There were no differences in the rates of decrease in long-term anxiety, length of stay, opiate use, or complications across the 3 groups.

Conclusion: Massage is an effective and safe adjuvant therapy for the relief of acute postoperative pain in patients undergoing major operations.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy*