Massage therapy is relatively safe, with infrequent adverse events, and is more efficacious than other active treatments for treating pain and anxiety in surgical populations, according to research published in Pain Medicine.

Courtney Boyd, MA, from the Samueli Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, and colleagues conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the efficacy of massage therapy in treating pain, function-related, and health-related quality of life outcomes in surgical pain populations. They searched databases for all eligible randomized controlled trials through February 2014. The trials were assessed with use of the SIGN 50 Checklist, and a meta-analysis was applied at the outcome level.


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A total of 12 high-quality and 4 low-quality studies were included in the review. Massage techniques—including those referred to as massage therapy, massage, M technique massage, Swedish massage, and effleurage—were compared with a variety of named controls, including relaxation, attention, standard care, routine care, usual care, amniocentesis, rest, normal activity, standard analgesia, no treatment, and vibration therapy, as well as one undescribed control.

Most studies focused on massage’s effect on pain, sleep, stress, mood, and health-related quality of life outcomes in patients regarding postoperative pain or in those who were undergoing or recovering from procedures such as amniocentesis, cardiac surgery, hip or knee arthroplasty, craniofacial surgery, cesarean delivery, laparoscopic sterilization, and port placement. Massage sessions varied from one 10-minute session to 12 daily 10-minute sessions for 6 days; 66.8% of participants were male, with a mean age of 49.8 years.

The researchers found that massage therapy was effective for treating pain (standardized mean difference [SMD], −0.79) and anxiety (SMD, −0.57), compared with the active comparators.

“Massage therapy appears to be efficacious for reducing pain and anxiety in patients who are either about to undergo or are recovering from surgical procedures,” stated the researchers. They identified several research gaps for massage therapy, including the need for more stringent reporting requirements and the need for guidelines specific to massage therapy to ensure that dosing, timing, massage pressure, practitioner qualifications, and credentialing are appropriate for surgical patients in hospital settings.

“Once these gaps are addressed, comparative effectiveness research can be proposed, taking into account cost benefit analyses, in order to determine whether massage therapy is an appropriate intervention to offer patients who are either about to undergo or are recovering from surgical procedures in hospital settings. The promising results yielded from this systematic review and meta-analysis warrant the investment of both time and resources into addressing recommendations offered in this report to guide future research and ultimately offer massage therapy as a beneficial tool for surgical patients experiencing pain.”


  1. Boyd C, Crawford C, Paat CF, et al. The impact of massage therapy on function in pain populations: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials: part III, surgical pain populations. Pain Med. 2016;17(9):1757-1772.