Aims: 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.