Massage for Rehabilitation

Massage for Rehabilitation

Massage for Rehabilitation

With more than 48 million surgeries performed in the United States each year, there’s a good chance
some of your massage therapy clients will be dealing with post-surgical pain, scarring, and other
common physical and emotional issues.
Postoperative pain isn’t always short-lived – it can complicate and delay a patient’s return to daily
activities and lengthen hospital stays and costs. Research shows persistent or chronic post-surgical pain
lasting two to three months is responsible for nearly 1 in 4 cases of chronic pain. This type of pain places
significant psychosocial and economic burdens on patients and represents a major public health
Surgery-related pain is also closely associated with various functional outcomes, including quality of life
and sleep disturbances. And, patients who are about to undergo surgery commonly experience fear and
anxiety, which complicate pre- and post-surgical pain management and increases the likelihood of
developing chronic post-surgery pain.

Massage Therapy Benefits for Rehabilitation

Studies indicate that massage therapy has a variety of benefits for helping people recover from
surgeries, including:
Decreasing postoperative pain and intensity
Reducing postoperative pain stress and anxiety
Mitigating sympathetic responses to postoperative pain
Decreasing doses of analgesics
Boosting levels of calmness and feelings of well-being
Reducing inflammation and scar tissue
Helping regain full range of motion without discomfort
Aiding in the re-alignment of muscles and joints

Common Types of Surgery + How Massage Therapy Can Help with Rehabilitation

Here are some of the most common types of surgeries massage therapists may encounter in their
practice. Explore what’s involved in these procedures and how massage therapy can help these post-
surgical patients.

Abdominal Surgery
What’s Involved: Abdominal surgeries take place in the area between the first rib and the pelvic floor
and can be performed on a variety of abdominal organs, such as the reproductive organs, stomach,
gallbladder, intestine, appendix, liver, spleen or esophagus. Surgery may be warranted for many
reasons, including obstruction, infection, inflammatory bowel disease or tumors. Larger incisions are
generally used in open abdominal surgery, while smaller incisions are used during laparoscopic surgery.

Most Common Post-surgery Complaints/Complications
More than 9 in 10 people who undergo abdominal surgery will develop some type of scarring or
Muscle inhibition and adhesions can become tighter even years after surgery
Back pain often results because patients “compensate” for abdominal muscle inhibition and scarring by
changing how they move or bend
How Massage Therapy Can Help
Studies indicate that massage helped patients with chronic low back pain, suggesting massage therapy
acted similarly to anti-inflammatory pain drugs.
Massage therapy also helps with changing alignment due to complications post-surgery—the alignment
of the body itself or any joint. It can help reactivate muscles that may not be working as they should be.
In addition, massage can minimize scars in abdominal surgery patients, stretching out the tissue to
diminish the scar.

Hip Replacement Surgery
What’s Involved: Known medically as hip arthroplasty, this procedure replaces a worn out or damaged
hip with an artificial joint because of problems such as a hip fracture or arthritis. Traditional hip
replacement involves a several-inch incision over the hip joint, while minimally invasive versions use one
or two smaller incisions. Surgical approaches include an incision from the front—called anterior hip
replacement—which may result in less trauma to muscles; a posterior approach is more traditional and
involves a back or side incision.
Most Common Post-surgery Complaints/Complications
Misalignment in muscles and joints that can produce prolonged pain

Scar tissue resulting in reduced range of motion
Deep vein thromboembolism is a potential major complication in hip replacement patients
How Massage Therapy Can Help
Studies indicate that manual calf massage can contribute to a lower incidence of deep vein
thromboembolism in hip replacement patients. Massage therapy also helps patients with troublesome
scar tissue. A massage therapist can address those muscles that have become over contracted— like the
hamstrings, quads and larger glute muscles, which may be hypertonic to help protect the surgical area
from injury.

Cardiac/Cardiothoracic Surgery
What’s Involved: Designed to treat heart or lung disease, cardiothoracic surgery may involve splitting
the chest open—as in open-heart surgery—or more minimally invasive techniques.
Most Common Post-surgery Complaints/Complications
Discomfort due to impaired movement in the nearby shoulders, back and neck
Patients may feel short of breath or afraid to breathe— it can feel tight or uncomfortable as the area
Many people experience right shoulder pain post-surgery (even though the heart is on the left side) due
to compensation in the pectoral muscles and decreased strength overall in the shoulders
How Massage Therapy Can Help
A research review of 12 studies published in the journal Heart & Lung looking at thoracic surgery, found
that patients receiving massage therapy in combination with pain-relieving medications reported less
pain than those who received “sham” massage or those receiving only pain medication.