Children with cancer and blood diseases experience positive physical and psychological effects from massage therapy

Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2009 Jun 29;2(2):7-14. doi: 10.3822/ijtmb.v2i2.12.


Background: Previous research has shown positive effects from massage therapy (MT) for premature infants and for children with asthma, arthritis, and other illnesses. Although these effects have been demonstrated, MT research on children with cancer and blood disease is needed.

Purpose and setting: The present study, conducted at the Cancer Center, Shands Hospital, at the University of Florida, Gainesville, measured the physical and psychological effects of MT on pediatric oncology and hematology patients. The participants were 30 children with cancer or blood disease, ages 6 months to 17 years.

Research design: This randomized, non-blinded prospective study used measures of physical health and mental wellbeing that were completed before, during, and after four MT sessions were implemented. Descriptive statistics, one-way between-subjects analysis of variance, and an independent-samples t-test were used to analyze the data.

Intervention: The treatment group received 20-minute sessions of Swedish MT once daily for approximately 4 days (inpatients), or once weekly for approximately 4 weeks (outpatients); the control group received no MT.

Results: Between-groups analyses indicated significant psychological improvements for the MT group on state anxiety (F(1,58) = 16.79, p < 0.000), trait anxiety (F(1,58) = 3.95, p < 0.000), and emotional state (F(1,238) = 42.39, p < 0.001)]. Between-groups analyses indicated significant physical improvements for the MT group on muscle soreness (F(1,238) = 38.96, p < 0.001), discomfort (F(1,238) = 50.16, p < 0.001), respiratory rate (F(1,237) = 22.47, p < 0.000)], and overall progress (t(28) = 25.55, p < 0.000). No significant differences were found between groups on parent-completed ratings of their child's physical or psychological health, pulse rate, or blood pressure.

Conclusions: In children with cancer and blood diseases, MT can reduce psychological and physical distress and can have a positive effect on quality of life.

Keywords: Massage; hematology; oncology; palliative therapy; pediatrics.