Massage helps reduce anxiety in surgical patients

Studies have shown that high levels of anxiety surrounding a surgical procedure can activate changes in a patient’s nervous and immune systems and potentially cause hypertension, impact pain thresholds and post-operative pain, delay surgery being started or completed, and delay patient discharge. Furthermore, pharmacological treatments that can be used to help control peri-operative anxiety may be short-acting or produce undesirable side-effects, such as nausea and vomiting (Guo et al, 2020).

A meta-analysis recently published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice aimed to “evaluate the effect of massage on peri-operative anxiety in adults who were about to undergo, were undergoing or were recovering from major and minimally invasive surgical procedures to provide appropriate and practical suggestions for future research and practice.”

A total of 25 studies met the eligibility criteria for the meta-analysis, comprising 2,494 participants. The authors noted the following key findings:

  • That massage can significantly reduce peri-operative anxiety for most types of surgical patients;
  • In order to be therapeutically beneficial, massage lasting 10 to 20 minutes per session was worthy of recommendation in a busy clinical setting;
  • Acupoint or specific body reflex area massage had a better effect on peri-operative anxiety than general massage;
  • Massage delivered by both massage professionals and non-massage professionals (eg. short-term trained nurses and hospital staff) were both effective.

The authors concluded, “This meta-analysis demonstrated that massage is a simple, safe and effective approach for alleviating peri-operative anxiety in most types of surgical patients. More RCTs [randomised controlled trials] with high-quality and rigorous design are warranted to confirm our findings and to clarify the most suitable time at which to start massage in the peri-operative period, the duration of massage efficacy, the minimal effective dose, and the appropriate frequency of massage”.

Click here to access the study abstract

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Guo PP, Fan SL, Li P, Zhang XH, Liu N, Wang J, Chen DD, Sun WJ, Yu L, Yang S, Zhang W. The effectiveness of massage on peri-operative anxiety in adults: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and controlled clinical trials. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2020 Nov;41:101240. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101240. Epub 2020 Sep 17. PMID: 32977216.

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