Receiving soothing massages for eight weeks after the death of a loved one can provide much-needed consolation during an intense, stressful period of grieving, according to a study in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Eighteen people who had lost a relative to cancer took part in the study. Participants ranged from 34 to 78 years of age and included widows, widowers, daughters and sisters. Nine chose foot massage, eight chose hand massage and one asked for both. Only three had previous experience of soft tissue massage.
"Details about the massage study were included in an information pack provided by the palliative care team when people's relatives died" says lead author Dr Berit S Cronfalk from the Stockholms Sjukhem Foundation, a Swedish palliative care provider.
Relatives were offered a 25-minute hand or foot massage once a week for eight weeks and could choose whether the sessions took place at home, work or at the hospital.
"Soft tissue massage is gentle, but firm" explains Dr Cronfalk, who carried out the research with colleagues from the Karolinska Institutet. "This activates touch receptors which then release oxytocin, a hormone known for its positive effects on well-being and relaxation.
"In this study the hand or foot massage was done with slow strokes, light pressure and circling movements using oil lightly scented with citrus or hawthorn.
"The relatives were then encouraged to relax for a further 30 minutes."
Baseline data was collected on the participants during a 60-minute interview before the programme started and a further 60-minute interview was conducted a week after the massage programme finished.
The interviews with the participants, which have been published in the Journal's annual complementary therapy issue, showed that they derived considerable benefits from the programme.
The relatives' comments could be divided into four key themes:
1) A helping hand at the right time
2) Something to rely on
3) Moments of rest
4) Moments of retaining energy
A follow-up six to eight months after the study showed that 17 of the relatives had moved forward with their lives, but one had suffered further emotional problems after the death of another close family member.
"All the people we spoke to used the word consolation" says Dr Cronfalk.
"The massages provide physical touch and closeness and helped to diminish the feelings of empty space and loneliness that people felt.
"Study participants also told us that the massages helped them to balance the need to grieve and the need to adapt to life after the loss of their relative."
Notes to editors
Soft tissue massage: early intervention for relatives whose family members died in palliative cancer care. Cronfalk et al. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 19, 1040-1048. (April 2010). DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2009.02985.x
Founded in 1992, Journal of Clinical Nursing is a highly regarded peer reviewed Journal that has a truly international readership. The Journal embraces experienced clinical nurses, student nurses and health professionals, who support, inform and investigate nursing practice. It enlightens, educates, explores, debates and challenges the foundations of clinical health care knowledge and practice worldwide. Edited by Professor Roger Watson, it is published 10 times a year by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, part of the international Blackwell Publishing group. www.blackwellpublishing.com/jcn
Wiley-Blackwell is the international scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons, with strengths in every major academic and professional field and partnerships with many of the world's leading societies. Wiley-Blackwell publishes nearly 1,500 peer-reviewed journals and 1,500+ new books annually in print and online, as well as databases, major reference works and laboratory protocols. For more information, please visit www.wileyblackwell.com or www.interscience.wiley.com
AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert! system.