blog post #341
“Effects of massage on pain, mood status, relaxation, and sleep in Taiwanese patients with metastatic bone pain: A randomized clinical trial”
Does massage therapy help patients with the grinding, deep pain of bone cancer? This Korean study in the journal Pain — nicely randomized, controlled, and a little bigger than small with 72 patients involved — compared the efficacy of massage therapy to “social attention.” That’s a good comparison, because it is likely that being cared for and attended to is one of the most important factors in the perceived (and actual) value of massage therapy. To know if massage itself is the “active ingredient” in massaging cancer patients, it’s got to do better than that. This comparison is rarely done in massage studies, and it should be done more often.
Researchers looked for effects on “pain, mood, muscle relaxation, and sleep quality,” and the results were encouraging across the board. Compared to people who were “just” given social attention
the reduction in pain with massage was both statistically and clinically significant, and the massage-related effects on relaxation were sustained for at least 16–18 hours post intervention.
It’s unlikely that the effects were sustained for long after that. Short-lived relief is a common problem with massage, and it is not all that impressive with problems like chronic low back pain, where treatment results need to last to be meaningful. With the severe pain of a serious and possibly fatal disease, however, any real relief is a genuinely big deal to the patient. As an example, such a massage could literally give a patient one of the only and most pleasant moments of their treatment process — or even of the remaining days of life.
Another interesting note here is that the benefits were both “statistically and clinically significant.” As I’ve explained here before, it’s unfortunate how often we see positive experimental results reported as “significant” when it means only statistically significant but clinically insignificant — meaning the experiment showed a real but trivially minor effect. (See: Not So Significant After All: A lot of research makes scientific evidence seem more “significant” than it is.) In this case, the benefits were probably both real and worth writing about. Unfortunately, even when benefits are reported as both significant and meaninfully large, they may still be wrong, which is why we always need so much research to confirm even the simplest things.
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