This image portrays a woman post mastectomy without scar tissue myofascial release.

Clinical Research Study:

Myofascial Massage for Chronic Pain & Decreased Upper Extremity Mobility After Breast Cancer Surgery

Background: Chronic localized pain and decreased upper extremity mobility commonly occur following breast cancer surgery and may persist despite use of pain medication and physical therapy.

Purpose: We sought to determine the value of myofascial massage to address these pain and mobility limitations.

Setting: The study took place at a clinical massage spa in the U.S. Midwest. The research was overseen by 

MetroHealth Medical Center’s Institutional Review Board and Case Center for Reducing Health Disparities research staff.

Participants: 21 women with persistent pain and mobility limitations 3–18 months following breast surgery.

Research Design: We conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial where intervention patients received myofascial massages and control patients received relaxation massages.

Intervention: Intervention participants received 16 myofascial massage sessions over eight weeks that focused on the affected breast, chest, and shoulder areas. Control participants received 16 relaxation massage sessions over eight weeks that avoided the affected breast, chest, and shoulder areas. Participants completed a validated questionnaire at the beginning and end of the study that asked about pain, mobility, and quality of life.

Main Outcome Measures: Outcome measures include change in self-reported pain, self-reported mobility, and three quality-of-life questions.

Results: At baseline, intervention and control participants were similar in demographic and medical characteristics, pain and mobility ratings, and quality of life. Compared to control participants, intervention participants had more favorable changes in pain (-10.7 vs. +0.4, p < .001), mobility (-14.5 vs. -0.8, p < .001), and general health (+29.5 vs. -2.5, p = .002) after eight weeks. All intervention and control participants reported that receiving massage treatments was a positive experience.

Conclusions: Myofascial massage is a promising treatment to address chronic pain and mobility limitations following breast cancer surgery. Further work in several areas is needed to confirm and expand on our study findings.