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State-of-the-Art Database Housing the Current Evidence Exploring the Impact of Massage Therapy on Function for Individuals Experiencing Pain


This state-of-the-art, comprehensive database houses data of the 99 randomized controlled trials included in a systematic review and meta-analysis, described below, that investigated the impact of massage therapy on function in three types of pain populations: 1) populations who would typically visit their general healthcare practitioner with complaints of pain; 2) patients undergoing or recovering from surgical/operative procedures and 3) cancer patients.

Users can use the search, sort and filter functions to manipulate the database's information as well as click on individual rows to view additional data (displayed below the table) pertinent to each article and extracted for the purpose of systematic review.


Pain is multi-dimensional and may be better addressed through a holistic, biopsychosocial approach. Usage of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) therapies is rising given the high rates of pain and unsatisfactory results from conventional pain treatment. One popular CIM therapy is massage, which involves the manipulation of soft-tissue to alleviate pain and discomfort. Despite its wide use, there continues to be ongoing debate about its efficacy for pain.

The following definitions were used for purposes of this review:
An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage. Pain is always subjective. Pain can be acute or chronic (Pain Management Task Force)
Massage Therapy:
The systematic manipulation of soft tissue with the hands that positively affects and promotes healing, reduces stress, enhances muscle relaxation, improves local circulation and creates a sense of well-being. [Evidence for Massage Therapy (EMT) Working Group]
Given the multi-dimensionality of pain and its subsequent effect on various function-related outcomes, the authors believe it is important to address pain through a biopsychosocial approach to best address the whole patient. As such, the authors view function to encompass the following outcomes:
1) Pain
2) Activity
3) Sleep
4) Mood
5) Stress
6) Quality of life
7) Pain pressure threshold
8) Physiological outcomes

Key databases were searched from inception to February 2014. Articles were included in the systematic review if they met all of the following criteria: (a) human population experiencing pain, as defined above; (b) massage therapy, as defined above, administered (i) alone as a therapy; (ii) as part of a multi-modal intervention where massage effects can be separately evaluated; or (iii) with techniques commonly used with massage pre-defined with an expert steering committee (i.e., external application of water, heat, cold, lubricants, background music, aromas, essential oils, and tools that may mimic the actions that can be performed by the hands); (c) sham, no treatment or active comparator (i.e., those in which participants are actively receiving any type of intervention); (d) at least one relevant functional outcome (as defined above), and (e) the study being a peer-reviewed randomized study design published in the English language.

All trials included in the review and presented in this database were assessed for methodological quality using SIGN 50 Checklist. Results of high (1) and acceptable (2) methodological quality studies are considered unlikely to change while those of low (3) quality studies are likely biased and subject to change if criteria were properly addressed. Characteristics of included studies were extracted and meta-analysis was applied at the outcome level where sufficient data was available.

Detailed results and recommendations for both research as well as practice are offered through the following series of Pain Medicine publications:

Crawford C, Boyd C, Paat C, Price A, Xenakis L, Yang E, Zhang W & the EMT Working Group. 2016. The Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations - A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part I, Patients Experiencing Pain in the General Population. Pain Medicine. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnw099.Link

Boyd C, Crawford C, Paat C, Price A, Xenakis L, Zhang W & the EMT Working Group. 2016. The Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations - A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part II, Cancer Pain Populations. Pain Medicine. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnw100.Link

Boyd C, Crawford C, Paat C, Price A, Xenakis L, Zhang W & the EMT Working Group. 2016. 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 Medicine. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnw101.Link

Dosage formula: Number of Sessions x Duration of Each Treatment (Minutes), Frequency (i.e. daily, weekly), for total duration (i.e. days, weeks) + homework; *Included in meta-analysis, ND: Not Described.
RefidAuthorTitlePublication DatePublication DataConditionOutcome MeasuresTotal ParticipantsQuality Assignment (SIGN 50)
 Item 1 to 10 of 99
Page:of 10 Page size:
52F. J. M. Aguilera, D. P. Martin, R. A. Masanet, A. C. Botella, L. B. Soler and F. B. MorellImmediate effect of ultrasound and ischemic compression techniques for the treatment of trapezius latent myofascial trigger points in healthy subjects: a randomized controlled study2009Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, vol 32: 7, pages 515-520Musculoskeletal Pain: Myofascial trigger points in the trapezius musclePain Pressure Threshold: Visual Analog Scale; Activity: Active Range of Motion; Physiological: Basal Electrical Activity.662-Acceptable
60M. S. Ajimsha, S. Chithra and R. P. ThulasyammalEffectiveness of Myofascial Release in the Management of Lateral Epicondylitis in Computer Professionals2012Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, vol 93: 4, pages 604-609Musculoskeletal Pain: EpicondylitisPain: Patient-Related Tennis Elbow Evaluation.682-Acceptable
325S. Berggreen, E. Wiik and H. LundTreatment of myofascial trigger points in female patients with chronic tension-type headache - a randomized controlled trial2012Advances in Physiotherapy, vol 14: 1, pages 10-17Headache: Chronic tension-type headachePain: Visual Analog Scale, Number of Trigger; Points, McGill Pain Questionnaire; Quality of Life: Short Form-36 Health Survey.392-Acceptable
395A. Blikstad and H. GemmellImmediate effect of activator trigger point therapy and myofascial band therapy on non-specific neck pain in patients with upper trapezius trigger points compared to sham ultrasound: a randomised cont...2008Clinical Chiropractic, vol 11: 1, pages 23-29Musculoskeletal Pain: Non-specific neck painPain: Numerical Rating Scale; Activity: Cervical Range of Motion Goniometer; Pain Pressure Threshold: Pain Pressure Algometer.451-High
404G. Bodes-Pardo, D. Pecos-Martin?T. Gallego-Izquierdo, J. Salom-Moreno, C. Fernández-de-Las-Peñas, R. Ortega-SantiagoManual Treatment for Cervicogenic Headache and Active Trigger Point in the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial2013Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, vol 36: 7, pages 403-411Headache: Cervicogenic headachePain: Numerical Rating Scale, Headache Frequency, Headache Duration; Activity: Cervical Range of Motion, Craniocervical Flexor Test; Pain Pressure Threshold: Analogical Algometer.202-Acceptable
450G. BrattbergConnective tissue massage in the treatment of fibromyalgia1999European Journal of Pain, vol 3: 3, pages 235-244Chronic Pain: FibromyalgiaPain: Visual Analog Scale; Activity: Disability Rating Index; Sleep: Sleep Disturbance; Mood: Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale; Quality of Life: Ordinal Scale, Fibrositis impact questionnair...483-Low
499V. Buttagat, W. Eungpinichpong, U. Chatchawan and P. ArayawichanonTherapeutic effects of traditional Thai massage on pain, muscle tension and anxiety in patients with scapulocostal syndrome: A randomized single-blinded pilot study2012Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, vol 16: 1, pages 57-63Musculoskeletal Pain: Scapuloscostal syndromePain: Visual Analog Scale; Mood: State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; Quality of Life: Patient Satisfaction Questionnaire; Pain Pressure Threshold: Pressure Algometry.202-Acceptable
500V. Buttagat, W. Eungpinichpong, U. Chatchawan and S. KharmwanThe immediate effects of traditional Thai massage on heart rate variability and stress-related parameters in patients with back pain associated with myofascial trigger points2011J Bodyw Mov Ther, vol 15: 1, pages 15-23Musculoskeletal Pain: Back pain associated with myofascial trigger pointsPain: Visual Analog Scale; Activity: Visual Analog Scale, Sit-and-reach box; Mood: State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; Physiological: Heart Rate Variability; Pain Pressure Threshold: Pressure Algom...361-High
501V. Buttagat, W. Eungpinichpong, D. Kaber, U. Chatchawan and P. ArayawichanonAcute effects of traditional Thai massage on electroencephalogram in patients with scapulocostal syndrome2012Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol 20: 4, pages 167-174Musculoskeletal Pain: Scapulocostal syndromePain: Visual Analog Scale; Mood: State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; Physiological: Electroencephalogram signals.401-High
547A. M. Castro-Sanchez, G. A. Mataran-Penarrocha, M. Arroyo-Morales, M. Saavedra-Hernandez, C. Fernandez-Sola and C. Moreno-LorenzoEffects of myofascial release techniques on pain, physical function, and postural stability in patients with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial2011Clin Rehabil, vol 25: 9, pages 800-13Chronic Pain: FibromyalgiaPain: McGill Pain Questionnaire, Number of tender points; Activity: Postural Stability, Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire; Quality of Life: Clinical Global Impression Severity Scale, Clinical Gl...942-Acceptable
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