Effectiveness Not Established

Massage/Aromatherapy Massage

for Constipation

Massage therapy involves the manipulation of the soft-tissue with various hand movements (e.g., rubbing, kneading, pressing, rolling, slapping, tapping). Massage therapy can elicit a relaxation response as measured by decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Often, massage is complemented with aromatherapy (i.e., essential oils combined with a carrier cream or oil to manipulate the soft tissues). Aromatherapy has been used together with massage in some studies. An aromatherapy massage is massage therapy delivered by a therapist while aromatherapy oils are administered by inhalation. Massage with or without aromatherapy has been studied in patients with cancer for management of anxiety, caregiver strain and burden, constipation, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, depression, lymphedema, pain, sleep-wake disturbances, and fatigue.

Research Evidence Summaries

Lai, T.K., Cheung, M.C., Lo, C.K., Ng, K.L., Fung, Y.H., Tong, M., & Yau, C.C. (2011). Effectiveness of aroma massage on advanced cancer patients with constipation: A pilot study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 17, 37–43.

Study Purpose

To evaluate the effectiveness of aroma massage in the treatment of constipation, as well as its impact on quality of life (QOL).

Intervention Characteristics/Basic Study Process

Patients were randomized to one of three groups: aroma abdominal massage, plain abdominal massage, or control. Fifteen- to 20-minute massages were offered daily for five consecutive days by the principal investigator and four other trained investigators. Patients completed questionnaires on days 1 and 5. Patients were withdrawn from the study if they required increased use of laxatives, had symptoms such as shortness of breath or fatigue, or were transferred or discharged from the hospital.

Sample Characteristics

  • The study reported on a sample of 32 patients.
  • Patient age ranged from 32 to 82 years. Most patients were aged 51 to 60 years.
  • The sample was 75% male and 25% female.   
  • Most patients (56%) had lung cancer.
  • Karnofsky performance scale index ranged from 40 to 80. Most patients' scores were from 40 to 50.



  • Single site
  • Inpatient
  • Hong Kong

Phase of Care and Clinical Applications

  • Patients were in the end-of-life phase of care.
  • The study has clinical applicability to end-of-life and palliative care.

Study Design

This was a randomized controlled trial.

Measurement Instruments/Methods

  • Constipation Assessment Scale (CAS)    
  • McGill Quality of Life questionnaire for Hong Kong Chinese (MQOL-HK)


  • In the aroma massage group, constipation improved with a mean score of 1.46 at day 5 compared to mean scores of 1.55 in the plain massage group and 6.63 in the control group.
  • Patients in the aroma massage group reported improved physical domain, more support, and generally improved QOL compared to the other groups.


Constipation is a common, preventable problem in patients with cancer. Nurses should have knowledge of alternative nonpharmacologic approaches to help patients manage this side effect.


  • The sample size was small (fewer than 100).
  • Generalizability of the results is limited bcause of the small sample size. In addition, too many patients withdrew from the control group to draw an accurate conclusion.

Nursing Implications

Nurses play a vital role in the treatment and prevention of constipation.