Massage therapy can effectively relieve cancer pain: A meta-analysis

Medicine (Baltimore). 2023 Jul 7;102(27):e33939. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000033939.


Background: To critically evaluate the effects of massage therapy on cancer pain.

Methods: Nine Chinese and English databases (PubMed, Cochrane Library, Embase, SCOPUS, Web of Science core, China Biomedical Literature Database, China National Knowledge Infrastructure, Wanfang, and VIP) were systematically searched from the inception of databases to November 2022 for randomized controlled trials. According to Cochrane Collaboration, 2 reviewers independently assessed the risk of bias and extracted data from the included studies. All analyses were performed with Review Manager 5.4.

Results: Thirteen randomized controlled trials were included in the meta-analysis, containing 1000 patients (498 in the massage therapy group and 502 in the control group). Massage therapy could significantly relieve cancer pain in patients (standardized mean difference = -1.16, 95% confidence interval [-1.39, -0.93], P < .00001), especially those in the perioperative period and those with hematological malignancies. Foot reflexology and hand acupressure had a moderate effect on cancer pain relief, with hand acupressure being more effective. Massage duration of 10 to 30 minutes and a program length of ≥1 week had a better effect and could significantly relieve pain. The occurrence of adverse events was reported in 4 of the 13 studies, all of which were no adverse events.

Conclusions: Massage therapy can be used as a complementary alternative therapy to relieve cancer pain in patients with hematological malignancies, breast cancer, and cancers of the digestive system. It is suggested that chemotherapy patients use foot reflexology, and perioperative period patients use hand acupressure. A massage duration of 10 to 30 minutes and a program length of ≥1 week is recommended to achieve better effects.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Cancer Pain* / therapy
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Female
  • Hematologic Neoplasms*
  • Humans
  • Massage