The Effects of Massage Therapy on Pain and Anxiety after Surgery: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Pain Manag Nurs. 2017 Dec;18(6):378-390. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2017.09.001.


Pain management is critical for patients after surgery, but current pain management methods are not always adequate. Massage therapy may be a therapeutic complementary therapy for pain. Many researchers have investigated the effects of massage therapy on post-operative pain, but there have been no systematic reviews and meta-analysis of its efficacy for post-operative patients. Our objective was to assess the effects of massage therapy on pain management among post-operative patients by conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis. The databases searched included MEDLINE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Library's CENTRAL. To assess the effects of massage therapy on post-operative pain and anxiety, we performed a meta-analysis and calculated standardized mean difference with 95% CIs (Confidential Intervals) as a summary effect. Ten randomized controlled trials were selected (total sample size = 1,157). Meta-analysis was conducted using subgroup analysis. The effect of single dosage massage therapy on post-operative pain showed significant improvement (-0.49; 95% confidence intervals -0.64, -0.34; p < .00001) and low heterogeneity (p = .39, I2 = 4%), sternal incisions showed significant improvement in pain (-0.68; -0.91, -0.46; p< .00001) and low heterogeneity (p = .76, I2 = 0%). The anxiety subgroups showed substantial heterogeneity. The findings of this study revealed that massage therapy may alleviate post-operative pain, although there are limits on generalization of these findings due to low methodological quality in the reviewed studies.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Massage / methods*
  • Massage / standards*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy*