Massage can ease pain after surgery and may complement the use of drugs for patients, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
In a study of 605 men 64 years and older who had major surgery, 200 received nightly 20-minute back massages for four days. On a scale of 1 to 10, those who got massages reported their pain diminished one level faster than those who did not.
All participants got comparable dosages of pain-relieving drugs such as morphine. One-third were not comfortable getting massages, so those who did may have been more appreciative and might have reported more pain relief, the study said.
"The effectiveness of massage in reducing both the intensity and unpleasantness of pain suggests that it may act through more than one mechanism," Allison Mitchinson of the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Michigan wrote in the Archives of Surgery.
"Massage may ameliorate suffering by helping to relieve the anxiety that so effectively synergizes with pain to create distress."
Massage to relieve pain dates to Hippocrates, the Greek physician recognized as a father of medicine.
Massage can dilate blood vessels, raise skin temperature and relax the mind and body. It can also reduce lactic acid levels in aching muscles, stimulate healing of connective tissues and increase lymphatic and blood circulation.
Massage may also create mood-boosting endorphins that offer a competing sensation, or may even block pain, the study said.
One problem is that nurses in modern-day hospitals rarely have time to give massages, it said.
Relieving pain with drugs has been controversial because of wariness among some care-givers and patients about dependency or addiction. Some studies have pointed to a tendency to not give patients enough pain-relieving drugs.
"Increased awareness for better pain control has led treating physicians to use nontraditional modalities such as massage therapy, music, and relaxation techniques," wrote Dr. Marie Hanna of Johns Hopkins University in a comment on the study published in the journal.
Reuters, December 17, 2007