Hand Massage Can Ease Stress and Anxiety for Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy

Hand massage was proven to not only reduce patient anxiety while undergoing chemotherapy, but also to strengthen nurse-patient relationships.

Chemotherapy infusions are likely to be uncomfortable and stress and anxiety-inducing, but one group of nurses may have a solution to help patients feel more at ease.

Caitlin Braithwaite and colleagues asked nurses at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where they practice, to administer five-minute hand massages to 43 patients in an outpatient chemotherapy infusion suite. Two of the chemotherapy drugs most commonly used at the suite carry a risk of anaphylaxis, so nurses had to sit at the patient’s side for the first 15 minutes of the first two infusions, offering an opportune window for nurses to try the technique.

Braithwaite’s goal was to strengthen the nurse—patient relationship and improve patient comfort, relaxation, experience, satisfaction and reduce stress and anxiety.

Patients were assigned to two groups: current standard of care or hand massage, and each group completed pre- and post-intervention assessments evaluating their stress, comfort, anxiety and satisfaction levels. After the five-month study was finished, Braithwaite reported that 100 percent of patients agreed or strongly agreed that the nurse-administered hand massage helped them, despite some having hesitation at first.

“The patient comments about the project were quite remarkable,” said Braithwaite. “Patients—male, female and all cancer types—said that hand massage increased their ability to talk to a nurse, helped them forget about their chemotherapy, and made them feel like someone valued them as a person and saw them as a person as they were getting treatment.”

Oncology nurses also offered positive feedback about the hand massages. One said it helped to connect with patients on a deeper level, while another said it was a good way to help patients relax without medication.

“A five-minute hand massage offers the nurse a nonverbal way to connect with patients and to communication empathy, caring, affection and concern,” the researchers noted in their study abstract.

Braithwaite said she would like to see hand massage integrated into patient care as part of a nurse’s essential job functions. She also hopes it can be applied across other practice settings in oncology.