The study overview
Caring for those with cancer can be very stressful and demanding. The authors were seeking a way to benefit carers, which is why this study was published in a journal related to cancer. Subjects were caregivers 18 years and older with no significant medical or musculoskeletal problems. 44 were chosen (22 intervention and 22 matching controls). Subjects were given a fairly standard 15 minute manual back massage each day for a week. To try and isolate the physiological effects of the massage therapists reduced potential psychological benefits by keeping communications to a minimum and used non-aromatic baby oil. As the rest and relaxation alone may have benefited, the control group rested quietly in a silence room and were not allowed anything that might affect the outcome such as music, television or exercising. Surveys and measurements were used to measure anxiety levels, heart rate, blood pressure and sleep quality
The study results
Anxiety levels were measured by two methods. The first was by using a scientific questionnaire where scores range from 0 to 80. Over the week the massage group improved from 49.68 to 45.68 (p<0.001) while the control group actually worsened.
The second measurement was plasma cortisol levels, which is significantly increased by psychological stressors, especially chronic stressful events. The authors noted that six previous reviews of the effect of massage on plasma cortisol showed either small or non-significant improvements. However, this study achieved a significant (p=0.01) reduction to which the authors attributed to providing multiple applications of therapy. To quote the authors:
In this study, a decrease in cortisol levels after massage was not surprising because massage was applied in multiple doses as 15 minutes a day for one week, thus sustaining the effect of massage might be effective.
Blood pressure and heart rate
To quote the authors:
Our findings showed that both BP and HR, which are psychological indicators, significantly decrease by massage.
As measured by a questionnaire called the “Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index”, 77.3% of the subjects initially suffered from poor quality sleep. After the week this had reduced to only 63.6%, with average index scores also being significantly reduced. Interestingly, as occurred with the anxiety state measurement the control group worsened. Maybe being involved in the trial created extra stress, which makes the results obtained by the massage group even more impressive?
This simple intervention repeated over time was shown to produce excellent and worthwhile results. There were no pharmaceuticals involved, and no side effects. The trial only went for one week, so it can be speculated that continuing the intervention may have produced further improvements. The only real issue stopping this as part of a management plan is the time and expense involved. Having a professional massage each day would add up to a considerable expense over time. This is one of the reasons our DrGraeme massagers were developed, as a serious piece of equipment patients/clients could use at home under professional advice to give practically unlimited supplementary quality massage.
Pinar R1, Afsar F. Back Massage to Decrease State Anxiety, Cortisol Level, Blood Prsessure, Heart Rate and Increase Sleep Quality in Family Caregivers of Patients with Cancer: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2015;16(18):8127-33