Attention A T users. To access the menus on this page please perform the following steps. 1. Please switch auto forms mode to off. 2. Hit enter to expand a main menu option (Health, Benefits, etc). 3. To enter and activate the submenu links, hit the down arrow. You will now be able to tab or arrow up or down through the submenu options to access/activate the submenu links.

Whole Health

Quick Links
Veterans Crisis Line Badge
My healthevet badge

Massage Therapy (Therapeutic Massage)

Library of Research Articles on Veterans and CIH Therapies

February 2024 Edition

Massage Therapy (Therapeutic Massage)

Boyd H. The Integrative Therapy Nurse: A Valuable Player in Symptom Management. Am J Nurs. 2018 Nov;118(11):64-69. 

With the support of colleagues and hospital management, the author, an RN with board certification in therapeutic massage and bodywork, developed and implemented the role of the integrative therapy nurse on the spinal cord injury and disorders unit at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The goal of this initiative was to provide patients with additional nonpharmacologic options for addressing their symptoms through the creation of an integrative therapy nurse role within the existing interdisciplinary team of physicians, NPs, psychologists, registered dieticians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and staff nurses. This article outlines the process of creating this role, discusses implications for practice, and reports the outcomes of three years of its implementation. The outcomes of decreased pain and increased relaxation among the veterans who participated in this initiative warrant its further expansion to additional clinical settings.

Collinge W, Kahn J, Soltysik R. Promoting reintegration of National Guard veterans and their partners using a self-directed program of integrative therapies: a pilot study. Mil Med. 2012 Dec;177(12):1477-85.

This article reports pilot data from phase I of a project to develop and evaluate a self-directed program of integrative therapies for National Guard personnel and significant relationship partners to support reintegration and resilience after return from Iraq or Afghanistan. Data are reported on 43 dyads. Intervention was an integrated multimedia package of guided meditative, contemplative, and relaxation exercises (CD) and instruction in simple massage techniques (DVD) to promote stress reduction and interpersonal connectedness. A repeated measures design with standardized instruments was used to establish stability of baseline levels of relevant mental health domains (day 1, day 30), followed by the intervention and assessments 4 and 8 weeks later. Significant improvements in standardized measures for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and self-compassion were seen in both veterans and partners; and in stress for partners. Weekly online reporting tracked utilization of guided exercises and massage. Veterans reported significant reductions in ratings of physical pain, physical tension, irritability, anxiety/worry, and depression after massage, and longitudinal analysis suggested declining baseline levels of tension and irritability. Qualitative data from focus groups and implications for continued development and a phase II trial are discussed.

Fletcher CE, Mitchinson AR, Trumble EL, Hinshaw DB, Dusek JA. Perceptions of other integrative health therapies by Veterans with pain who are receiving massage. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2016;53(1):117-26. doi: 10.1682/JRRD.2015.01.0015. PubMed PMID: 27004453; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4829362.

Veterans are increasingly using complementary and integrative health (CIH) therapies to manage chronic pain and other troubling symptoms that significantly impair health and quality of life. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is exploring ways to meet the demand for access to CIH, but little is known about Veterans' perceptions of the VA's efforts. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted interviews of 15 inpatients, 8 receiving palliative care, and 15 outpatients receiving CIH in the VA. Pain was the precipitating factor in all participants' experience. Participants were asked about their experience in the VA and their opinions about which therapies would most benefit other Veterans. Participants reported that massage was well-received and resulted in decreased pain, increased mobility, and decreased opioid use. Major challenges were the high ratio of patients to CIH providers, the difficulty in receiving CIH from fee-based CIH providers outside of the VA, cost issues, and the role of administrative decisions in the uneven deployment of CIH across the VA. If the VA is to meet its goal of offering personalized, proactive, patient-centered care nationwide then it must receive support from Congress while considering Veterans' goals and concerns to ensure that the expanded provision of CIH improves outcomes.

Golden RE, Klap R, Carney DV, Yano EM, Hamilton AB, Taylor SL, Kligler B, Whitehead AM, Saechao F, Zaiko Y, Pomernacki A, Frayne SM; WH-PBRN-CIH Writing Group. Promoting learning health system feedback loops: Experience with a VA practice-based research network card study. Healthc (Amst). 2021 Jun;8 Suppl 1:100484. doi: 10.1016/j.hjdsi.2020.100484. Epub 2021 Jun 23. PMID: 34175097.


We tested the capacity of the 60-site VA Women’s Health Practice-Based Research Network (WH-PBRN), embedded within VA, to employ a multisite card study to collect women Veterans’ perspectives about Complementary and Integrative Health (CIH) and to rapidly return findings to participating sites and partnered national policy-makers in support of a Learning Health System (LHS) wherein evidence generation informs ongoing improvement.


VA primary care clinic clerks and nurses distributed anonymous surveys (patient feedback forms) at clinics for up to two weeks in fiscal year 2017, asking about CIH behavior and preferred delivery methods. We examined the project’s feasibility, representativeness, acceptability, and impact via a tracking system, national administrative data, debriefing notes, and three surveys of WH-PBRN Site Leads.


Twenty geographically diverse and largely representative VA Medical Centers and 11 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics volunteered to participate. Over six months, N = 1,191 women Veterans responded (median 57; range 8-151 per site). In under three months, we returned local findings benchmarked against multisite findings to all participating sites and summary findings to national VA partners. Sites and partners disseminated results to clinical and leadership stakeholders, who then applied results as warranted.


VA effectively mobilized an embedded PBRN to implement a timely, representative, acceptable and impactful operations project.


Card studies by PBRNs within large, national healthcare systems can provide rapid feedback to participating sites and national leaders to guide policies, programs, and practices.

Haun JN, Ballistrea LM, Melillo C, Standifer M, Kip K, Paykel J, Murphy JL, Fletcher CE, Mitchinson A, Kozak L, Taylor SL, Glynn SM, Bair M.  A Mobile and Web-Based Self-Directed Complementary and Integrative Health Program for Veterans and Their Partners (Mission Reconnect): Protocol for a Mixed-Methods Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Res Protoc. 2019 May 13;8(5):e13666. doi: 10.2196/13666.

Complementary and integrative health (CIH) is a viable solution to PTSD and chronic pain. Many veterans believe CIH can be performed only by licensed professionals in a health care setting. Health information technology can bring effective CIH to veterans and their partners.

This paper describes the rationale, design, and methods of the Mission Reconnect protocol to deliver mobile and Web-based complementary and integrative health programs to veterans and their partners (eg, spouse, significant other, caregiver, or family member).

This three-site, 4-year mixed-methods randomized controlled trial uses a wait-list control to determine the effects of mobile and Web-based CIH programs for veterans and their partners, or dyads. The study will use two arms (ie, treatment intervention arm and wait-list control arm) in a clinical sample of veterans with comorbid pain and posttraumatic stress disorder, and their partners. The study will evaluate the effectiveness and perceived value of the Mission Reconnect program in relation to physical and psychological symptoms, global health, and social outcomes.

Funding for the study began in November 2018, and we are currently in the process of recruitment screening and data randomization for the study. Primary data collection will begin in May 2019 and continue through May 2021. Projected participants per site will be 76 partners/dyads, for a total of 456 study participants. Anticipated study results will be published in November 2022.

This work highlights innovative delivery of CIH to veterans and their partners for treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Juberg M, Jerger KK, Allen KD, Dmitrieva NO, Keever T, Perlman AI. Pilot study of massage in veterans with knee osteoarthritis. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Jun;21(6):333-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0254.

To (1) assess the feasibility and acceptability of Swedish massage among Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care users with knee osteoarthritis (OA) and (2) collect preliminary data on efficacy of Swedish massage in this patient group.

Experimental pilot study.

Duke Integrative Medicine clinic and VA Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina.

Twenty-five veterans with symptomatic knee OA.

Eight weekly 1-hour sessions of full-body Swedish massage.

Primary: Western Ontario and McMaster University Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) and global pain (Visual Analog Scale [VAS]). Secondary: National Institutes of Health Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System-Pain Interference Questionnaire 6b (PROMIS-PI 6b), 12-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-12 v1) and the EuroQol health status index (EQ-5D-5L), knee range of motion (ROM), and time to walk 50 feet.

Study feasibility was established by a 92% retention rate with 99% of massage visits and 100% of research visits completed. Results showed significant improvements in self-reported OA-related pain, stiffness and function (30% improvement in Global WOMAC scores; p=0.001) and knee pain over the past 7 days (36% improvement in VAS score; p<0.001). PROMIS-PI, EQ-5D-5L, and physical composite score of the SF-12 also significantly improved (p<0.01 for all), while the mental composite score of the SF-12 and knee ROM showed trends toward significant improvement. Time to walk 50 feet did not significantly improve.

Results of this pilot study support the feasibility and acceptability of Swedish massage among VA health care users as well as preliminary data suggesting its efficacy for reducing pain due to knee OA. If results are confirmed in a larger randomized trial, massage could be an important component of regular care for these patients.

Kozak L, Vig E, Simons C, Eugenio E, Collinge W, Chapko M. A feasibility study of caregiver-provided massage as supportive care for Veterans with cancer. J Support Oncol. 2013 Sep;11(3):133-43.


To assess the feasibility of using a multimedia program to teach caregivers of Veterans with cancer how to offer basic massage for supportive care at home.


Feasibility was assessed according to partner availability, compliance with watching training materials and practicing massage regularly, compliance with data collection; perceived study materials burden; clarity of instructional and other study materials. Pre- and post-massage changes in patients' symptom scores were measured using a numerical rate scale. A semistructured exit interview was answered by patient and caregiver at the end of the study.


A total of 27 dyads were recruited. Veterans were 78% male. Forty-eight percent were diagnosed with hematologic malignancies (85%, advanced stage); 52% were diagnosed with solid tumors (64% advanced stage). Caregivers were 78% female; 81% were spouses. Out of the 27 pairs, 11 completed 8 weeks of data and practiced massage weekly. The majority of attrition (69%) was due to caregivers' burden. Caregivers reported instructional materials were clear, high quality, and easy to use. Patients were highly satisfied with receiving touch from their partners regularly. Post-massage symptom scores showed statistically significant decreases in pain, stress/anxiety, and fatigue. Perceived burden of data collection instruments was high, particularly for patients.


It is feasible to use the TCC program to train caregivers of Veterans with cancer to offer massage for supportive care at home. Future studies should evaluate ways of providing support to caregivers, including offering massage to them, and easing the burden of data collection for patients.

Mitchinson A, Fletcher CE, Kim HM, Montagnini M, Hinshaw DB.  Integrating massage therapy within the palliative care of veterans with advanced illnesses: an outcome study. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2014 Feb;31(1):6-12. doi: 10.1177/1049909113476568. Epub 2013 Feb 18.


To describe the integration of massage therapy into a palliative care service and to examine the relationship between massage and symptoms in patients with advanced illnesses.


Between April 1, 2009, and July 31, 2010, 153 patients received massage at the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System. Data on pain, anxiety, dyspnea, relaxation, and inner peace were collected pre and post massage. Diagnoses, chronic pain, and social support were also abstracted. Analysis of covariance was used to examine changes over time.


All short-term changes in symptoms showed improvement and all were statistically significant. Pain intensity decreased by 1.65 (0-10 scale, P < .001), anxiety decreased by 1.52 (0-10 scale, P < .001), patients' sense of relaxation increased by 2.92 (0-10 scale, P < .001), and inner peace improved by 1.80 (0-10 scale, P < .001).


Massage is a useful tool for improving symptom management and reducing suffering in palliative care patients.

Mitchinson A, Fletcher CE, Trumble E. Integrating Massage Therapy Into the Health Care of Female Veterans. Fed Pract. 2022 Feb;39(2):86-92. doi: 10.12788/fp.0223. Epub 2022 Feb 9. PMID: 35444384; PMCID: PMC9014938.


Female veterans experience higher rates of chronic pain, depression, and anxiety than do male veterans. Gynecologic examinations and procedures can be stressful, painful, and anxiety provoking. Research has shown that massage can help reduce pain and anxiety. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between massage and well-being in female veterans.


A pre- and post visit study design was used. In advance of their clinic visit, female veterans were asked by clinic staff whether they would like a relaxation massage in conjunction with their visit. Effleurage massages were administered by licensed volunteer massage therapists in a private space and performed on the back, neck, hands/arms, legs/feet. Patients rated their pain intensity, pain unpleasantness, anxiety, shortness of breath, relaxation, and inner peace pre- and post massage on 0 to 10 scales. Demographics and data were abstracted from the medical records.


Results are based on the first massage received by 96 individuals: A majority of participants were aged ≤ 40 years (53%) and were White women (68%). Most (70%) were scheduled for an invasive procedure (eg, pelvic examination, biopsy). Seventy-nine percent had a history of chronic pain; 65% had a diagnosis of depression. Mean scores for pain intensity decreased by 1.9 points, pain unpleasantness by 2.0, and anxiety by 2.4. Relaxation increased by 4.3 points and sense of inner peace by 3.5 points. These changes were all statistically significant (P < .001).


Results from this pilot study suggest massage therapy may be an effective, inexpensive, and safe treatment for pain and/or anxiety in female veterans attending a gynecology appointment. Further research should assess the effects of massage therapy in female veterans with chronic pain and coexistent mental health conditions.

Mitchinson AR, Kim HM, Rosenberg JM, Geisser M, Kirsh M, Cikrit D, Hinshaw DB. Acute postoperative pain management using massage as an adjuvant therapy: a randomized trial. Arch Surg. 2007 Dec;142(12):1158-67; discussion 1167. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.142.12.1158.


Adjuvant massage therapy improves pain management and postoperative anxiety among many patients who experience unrelieved postoperative pain. Pharmacologic interventions alone may not address all of the factors involved in the experience of pain.


Randomized controlled trial.


Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Indianapolis, Indiana.


Six hundred five veterans (mean age, 64 years) undergoing major surgery from February 1, 2003, through January 31, 2005.


Patients were assigned to the following 3 groups: (1) control (routine care), (2) individualized attention from a massage therapist (20 minutes), or (3) back massage by a massage therapist each evening for up to 5 postoperative days. Main Outcome Measure Short- and long-term (> 4 days) pain intensity, pain unpleasantness, and anxiety measured by visual analog scales.


Compared with the control group, patients in the massage group experienced short-term (preintervention vs postintervention) decreases in pain intensity (P = .001), pain unpleasantness (P < .001), and anxiety (P = .007). In addition, patients in the massage group experienced a faster rate of decrease in pain intensity (P = .02) and unpleasantness (P = .01) during the first 4 postoperative days compared with the control group. There were no differences in the rates of decrease in long-term anxiety, length of stay, opiate use, or complications across the 3 groups.


Massage is an effective and safe adjuvant therapy for the relief of acute postoperative pain in patients undergoing major operations.

Munk N, Daggy JK, Evans E, Kline M, Slaven JE, Laws B, Foote T, Matthias MS, Bair MJ. Therapist-Delivered Versus Care Ally-Assisted Massage for Veterans With Chronic Neck Pain: Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Res Protoc. 2022 Sep 27;11(9):e38950. doi: 10.2196/38950. PMID: 36166287; PMCID: PMC9555333.


Chronic neck pain (CNP) is prevalent, and it reduces functional status and quality of life and is associated with deleterious psychological outcomes in affected individuals. Despite the desirability of massage and its demonstrated effectiveness in CNP treatment, multiple accessibility barriers exist. Caregiver-applied massage has demonstrated feasibility in various populations but has not been examined in Veterans with CNP or compared in parallel to therapist-delivered massage.


This manuscript described the original study design, lessons learned, and resultant design modifications for the Trial Outcomes for Massage: Care Ally-Assisted Versus Therapist-Treated (TOMCATT) study.


TOMCATT began as a 3-arm, randomized controlled trial of 2 massage delivery approaches for Veterans with CNP with measures collected at baseline, 1 and 3 months after intervention, and 6 months (follow-up). Arm I, care ally-assisted massage, consisted of an in-person, 3.5-hour training workshop, an instructional DVD, a printed treatment manual, and three 30-minute at-home care ally-assisted massage sessions weekly for 3 months. Arm II, therapist-treated massage, consisted of two 60-minute sessions tailored to individual pain experiences and treatments per week for 3 months. The treatments followed a standardized Swedish massage approach. Arm III consisted of wait-list control.


Retention and engagement challenges in the first 30 months were significant in the care ally-assisted massage study arm (63% attrition between randomization and treatment initiation) and prompted modification to a 2-arm trial, that is, removing arm I.


The modified TOMCATT study successfully launched and exceeded recruitment goals 2.5 months before the necessary COVID-19 pause and is expected to be completed by early 2023.

Reinhard MJ, Nassif TH, Bloeser K, Dursa EK, Barth SK, Benetato B, Schneiderman A. CAM utilization among OEF/OIF veterans: findings from the National Health Study for a New Generation of US Veterans. Med Care. 2014 Dec;52(12 Suppl 5):S45-9.


Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is increasingly seen as an adjunct to traditional plans of care. This study utilized a representative sample of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans and OEF/OIF-era veterans to explore the prevalence and characteristics of CAM users.


The National Health Study for a New Generation of US Veterans (NewGen) is a longitudinal health study of a population-based cohort of OEF/OIF (deployed) and OEF/OIF-era (nondeployed) veterans. Data from the 2009-2011 NewGen survey (n=20,563) were analyzed to determine prevalence of CAM use by demographic and military characteristics, the types of CAM modalities used, and where the modalities were sought. Results were weighted to the entire population of OEF/OIF and OEF/OF-era veterans.


There was no statistically significant association between CAM use and deployment. Those who used Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care after separation were more likely to be CAM users compared with those who did not use VA care; however, the majority of veterans using CAM are using it outside the VA health care system. Massage was the most prevalent CAM modality followed by chiropractic treatment; males were less likely to use CAM than women.


CAM modalities are being utilized by OEF/OIF veterans for health problems mainly outside the VA. Policymakers should determine appropriate use of these modalities.

Taylor SL, Hoggatt KJ, Kligler B. Complementary and Integrated Health Approaches: What Do Veterans Use and Want. J Gen Intern Med. 2019 Jul;34(7):1192-1199. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-04862-6. Epub 2019 Apr 22.


Non-pharmacological treatment options for common conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, and depression are being given increased consideration in healthcare, especially given the recent emphasis to address the opioid crisis. One set of non-pharmacological treatment options are evidence-based complementary and integrative health (CIH) approaches, such as yoga, acupuncture, and meditation. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the nation's largest healthcare system, has been at the forefront of implementing CIH approaches, given their patients' high prevalence of pain, anxiety, and depression. We aimed to conduct the first national survey of veterans' interest in and use of CIH approaches.


Using a large national convenience sample of veterans who regularly use the VHA, we conducted the first national survey of veterans' interest in, frequency of and reasons for use of, and satisfaction with 26 CIH approaches (n = 3346, 37% response rate) in July 2017.


In the past year, 52% used any CIH approach, with 44% using massage therapy, 37% using chiropractic, 34% using mindfulness, 24% using other meditation, and 25% using yoga. For nine CIH approaches, pain and stress reduction/relaxation were the two most frequent reasons veterans gave for using them. Overall, 84% said they were interested in trying/learning more about at least one CIH approach, with about half being interested in six individual CIH approaches (e.g., massage therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology, and progressive relaxation). Veterans appeared to be much more likely to use each CIH approach outside the VHA vs. within the VHA.


Veterans report relatively high past-year use of CIH approaches and many more report interest in CIH approaches. To address this gap between patients' level of interest in and use of CIH approaches, primary care providers might want to discuss evidence-based CIH options to their patients for relevant health conditions, given most CIH approaches are safe.