Does Hand Massage Have Sustained Effects on Pain Intensity and Pain-Related Interference in the Cardiac Surgery Critically Ill? A Randomized Controlled Trial

Pain Manag Nurs. 2019 Dec;20(6):572-579. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2019.02.011. Epub 2019 May 15.


Background: Despite the promising short-term pain relief effect of massage, little is known regarding its sustained effects on pain intensity and pain-related interference with functioning.

Aims: To evaluate the sustained effect of hand massage on the pain intensity and pain-related interference with functioning of cardiac surgery patients.

Design: A randomized controlled trial.

Settings: A medical-surgical intensive care unit in Canada.

Participants/subjects: Adult patients undergoing cardiac surgery and at low risk for postoperative complications were eligible.

Methods: In the intensive care unit, patients were randomly assigned to either 20-minute hand massage, hand holding, or rest. Pain intensity and pain-related interference with functioning were assessed on the second postoperative day.

Results: A total of 60 patients were randomly allocated and 46 completed data collection on the second postoperative day. Although no significant differences were identified across groups, the hand massage group reported a maximum pain intensity (median 5.75, range: 2-10) that was lower than the hand-holding (median 6.50, range: 1-10) and standard care groups (median 6.25, range: 0-10). The hand massage group could reach 0 pain intensity throughout a 24-hour period (median 0, range: 0-7), contrary to the hand-holding (median 2, range: 0-5) and standard care groups (median 2, range: 0-4.5). A trend for statistical significance was noted for dichotomized ratings on pain interference with walking (p = .176) and sleep (p = .050).

Conclusions: Hand massage could help patients experience longer periods without pain and lower levels of maximum pain intensity. When coupled with recovery activities, hand massage could reduce pain-related interference with functioning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / methods*
  • Critical Illness / therapy
  • Female
  • Hand*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage / methods
  • Massage / standards*
  • Massage / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Management / methods
  • Pain Management / standards*
  • Pain Management / statistics & numerical data
  • Postoperative Period
  • Quebec