Objective. Pain is multi-dimensional and may be better addressed through a holistic, biopsychosocial approach. Massage therapy is commonly practiced among patients seeking pain management; however, its efficacy is unclear. This systematic review and meta-analysis is the first to rigorously assess the quality of the evidence for massage therapy’s efficacy in treating pain, function-related, and health-related quality of life outcomes in surgical pain populations.
Methods. Key databases were searched from inception through February 2014. Eligible randomized controlled trials were assessed for methodological quality using SIGN 50 Checklist. Meta-analysis was applied at the outcome level. A professionally diverse steering committee interpreted the results to develop recommendations.
Results. Twelve high quality and four low quality studies were included in the review. Results indicate massage therapy is effective for treating pain [standardized mean difference (SMD) = −0.79] and anxiety (SMD = −0.57) compared to active comparators.
Conclusion. Based on the available evidence, weak recommendations are suggested for massage therapy, compared to active comparators for reducing pain intensity/severity and anxiety in patients undergoing surgical procedures. This review also discusses massage therapy safety, challenges within this research field, how to address identified research gaps, and next steps for future research.