Researchers in the U.S. have found that pain after surgery was eased by massage and they suggest it may complement the use of drugs.
The researchers conducted a study involving 605 men 64 years and older who had undergone major surgery for chest or abdominal problems.
The patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups for the five days following surgery, 203 received routine care, 200 received a daily 20-minute back massage, and 202 received 20 minutes of individual attention each day from a massage therapist, but no massage to assess the effect of emotional support independent of massage.
It was found that on a scale of 1 to 10, those who received massages reported their pain diminished one level faster than those who did not.
According to the study author Allison Mitchinson of the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Michigan, the effectiveness of the massage in reducing both the intensity and unpleasantness of pain suggests that it may act through more than one mechanism.
Mitchinson suggests massage may help to relieve the anxiety that so effectively synergizes with pain to create distress as it dilates blood vessels, raises the skin temperature and relaxes the mind and body.
The researchers say massage can also reduce lactic acid levels in aching muscles, stimulate the healing of connective tissues and increase lymphatic and blood circulation; it also stimulates mood-boosting endorphins which may even block pain.
It seems many patients still experience pain following major surgery despite the availability of pain-relieving medications but offering relief from pain with drugs is a controversial issue because of concerns regarding dependency and addiction.
Some research has suggested that there is in fact a tendency to give patients too little pain-relieving drugs because of concerns about side effects and doctors and nurses may administer ineffective doses of pain relievers because of personal biases, cultural attitudes or a lack of knowledge.
Experts say increased awareness of better pain control has led some doctors to try nontraditional treatments such as massage therapy, music, and relaxation techniques, to alleviate pain.
The authors say the complex and administrative demands health care systems impose on nursing staff means the tradition of nurse-administered massage has been largely lost.
They say it is time to reintegrate the use of effective and less dangerous approaches to relieve patient distress.
The research is published in the Archives of Surgery.