Managing pain and fatigue in people with spinal cord injury: a randomized controlled trial feasibility study examining the efficacy of massage therapy

Spinal Cord. 2017 Feb;55(2):162-166. doi: 10.1038/sc.2016.156. Epub 2016 Nov 29.


Study design: A randomized controlled trial (RCT).

Objectives: To determine the efficacy of massage therapy (MT) as a treatment that could be implemented to reduce pain and fatigue in people with chronic spinal cord injury (SCI).

Setting: Laboratory setting in Sydney, Australia.

Methods: Participants included 40 people with SCI living in the community who were randomly assigned into one of two RCT arms: MT (Swedish massage to upper body) or an active concurrent control (guided imagery (GI) relaxation). All participants received 30 min once a week of either massage or GI over 5 consecutive weeks. In addition to sociodemographic and injury factors, assessments and reliable measures including the short-form McGill Pain Questionnaire and Chalder's Fatigue Scale were validated.

Results: Chronic pain and fatigue were significantly reduced in the massage group when assessed at the end of 5 weeks (P<0.05), with large effect sizes. Interestingly, GI was as effective as MT in reducing pain and fatigue. Pain scores were reduced significantly over time in both MT and GI groups (P=0.049 and P=0.032, respectively). Total fatigue scores were also reduced in both MT and GI groups (P=0004 and P=0.037, respectively.)Conclusions:Massage and GI are both active treatments that provide potential clinical benefits for adults with SCI. Future research should clarify the role of massage and GI in managing pain and fatigue in SCI and assess outcomes into the longer-term.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Fatigue / diagnosis
  • Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Fatigue / therapy*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnosis
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome