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Pain Med. 2016 Jul 1;17(7):1353-1375. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnw099.

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.

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Samueli Institute, Alexandria, Virginia.



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 massage therapy research and evidence for its efficacy in treating pain, function-related and health-related quality of life outcomes across all pain populations.


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 diverse steering committee interpreted the results to develop recommendations.


Sixty high quality and seven low quality studies were included in the review. Results demonstrate massage therapy effectively treats pain compared to sham [standardized mean difference (SMD) = -.44], no treatment (SMD = -1.14), and active (SMD = -0.26) comparators. Compared to active comparators, massage therapy was also beneficial for treating anxiety (SMD = -0.57) and health-related quality of life (SMD = 0.14).


Based on the evidence, massage therapy, compared to no treatment, should be strongly recommended as a pain management option. Massage therapy is weakly recommended for reducing pain, compared to other sham or active comparators, and improving mood and health-related quality of life, compared to other active comparators. Massage therapy safety, research challenges, how to address identified research gaps, and necessary next steps for implementing massage therapy as a viable pain management option are discussed.

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