Chair massage for treating anxiety in patients withdrawing from psychoactive drugs

J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Sep;16(9):979-87. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0645.


Context: Therapeutic massage has been proven to be an effective, nonpharmacologic, alternative for managing state and trait anxiety in a variety of clinical situations. However, no controlled study has investigated this effect in an addiction treatment setting.

Aim: The aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of chair massage for reducing anxiety in persons participating in an inpatient withdrawal management program for psychoactive drugs.

Design: The design was a randomized, controlled clinical trial conducted from June 2008 to January 2009.

Subjects: Eighty-two (82) adult patients received inpatient treatment for psychoactive drug withdrawal (alcohol, cocaine, and opiates).

Setting: This study was conducted at the Withdrawal Management Services at the Capital District Health Authority, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Interventions: Subjects were randomly assigned to receive chair massage (n = 40) or a relaxation control condition (n = 42). Treatments were offered for 3 consecutive days. Standard counseling and pharmacologic management were also offered concurrently to patients in all conditions.

Measurements: The primary outcome measure was anxiety assessed using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). State and trait anxiety scores were determined immediately prior to and following each treatment intervention.

Results: Analysis of STAI scores showed a significant reduction in state and trait anxiety for both interventions (p < 0.001). The magnitude in the reduction in state (p = 0.001) and trait (p = 0.045) anxiety was significantly greater in the chair massage group where the effect on state anxiety was sustained, at least in part, for 24 hours.

Conclusions: Within the clinical context of this study, chair massage was more effective that relaxation control in reducing anxiety. Further investigation of chair massage as a potential nonpharmacologic adjunct in the management of withdrawal related anxiety is warranted.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage / methods*
  • Massage / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Relaxation Therapy* / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / therapy*


  • Psychotropic Drugs