Massage/Aromatherapy Massage

Massage/Aromatherapy Massage

PEP Topic 

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.

Effectiveness Not Established

Research Evidence Summaries

Barclay, J., Vestey, J., Lambert, A., & Balmer, C. (2006). Reducing the symptoms of lymphoedema: Is there a role for aromatherapy? European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 10(2), 140–149.

doi: 10.1016/j.ejon.2005.10.008

Study Purpose:

To assess the effectiveness of self-massage and skin care using a base cream containing aromatherapy oils versus using a base cream without aromatherapy oils in terms of objective reduction in limb volume and patient-reported symptom improvement and well-being after simple lymphatic drainage

Sample Characteristics:

  • The sample (N = 81) was comprised of patients who were randomized to either the experimental group (n = 40) or the control group (n = 41).
  • The majority of patients were female (n = 77), with only four male patients.
  • Age of the sample ranged from 25–80 years.
  • Patients were included in the study if they
    • Were referred to the Dorset Cancer Centre Lymphedema Service
    • Had lymphedema for more than one year
    • Had bilateral or unilateral stable lymphedema
    • Had no evidence of acute inflammation, thrombosis, or recurrence
    • Agreed to avoid other aromatherapy-based treatments and products during their treatment period
    • Were not pregnant or sensitive to aromatherapy or wheat germ.

Measurement Instruments/Methods:

  • Circumference was measured every 4 cm using a self-tensioning tape measure and recorded as absolute volume.
  • Truncated cone calculation was used to calculate volume.
  • Measurements were taken monthly for three months.
  • If no improvement was seen over three months, patients were taken off the trial and returned to standard hospital therapy.
  • Symptom improvement, activity, and well-being were measured using the Measure Yourself Medical Outcome Profile 2 (MYMOP2).


Self-massage and skin care significantly improved patient-identified symptom relief and well-being for patients. It also, but not significantly, reduced limb volume. Aromatherapy oils did not appear to influence any improvement in these measures. In the experimental group, 69% had limb reduction, compared to 57% in the control group (p = 0.38). Both groups combined showed slight improvement (p = 0.034). The finding supports the use of simple lymphatic drainage. Well-being, pain, discomfort, mobility, and body image were evaluated and showed significant improvement in patient-identified symptom relief and well-being. No difference was observed using aromatherapy.


  • Determining the value of subjective benefits was difficult, even using the scale.
  • The study used both primary and secondary patients.
  • The study sample was not a very homogeneous group, presenting too many variables.
  • Patients did not necessarily have a cancer diagnosis.
  • The cause of lymphedema was not defined.

Maher, J., Refshauge, K., Ward, L., Paterson, R., & Kilbreath, S. (2012). Change in extracellular fluid and arm volumes as a consequence of a single session of lymphatic massage followed by rest with or without compression. Supportive Care in Cancer, 20, 3079–3086.

doi: 10.1007/s00520-012-1433-8

Study Purpose:

To evaluate the effects of massage and compression in women with and without arm lymphedema secondary to breast cancer  

Intervention Characteristics/Basic Study Process:

Women with clinically diagnosed lymphedema secondary to breast cancer and a convenience sample of women without breast cancer or lymphedema were recruited. Women who wore a compression garment removed it two hours before measurement and massage.  Measurements were taken prior to, mid way through, and at the completion of massage. Women received a therapeutic massage for one hour using the Foldi method of lymphatic drainage provided by a single trained therapist.

Sample Characteristics:

  • The study reported on 30 female patients.
  • The mean age of patients in the breast cancer group was 60 years. The mean age of patients in the nonbreast cancer group was 46 years.
  • All patients with breast cancer were at least three months post-completion of any treatment. All of these patients had an interarm volume difference of at least 200 ml by perometry or bioimpedance interarm ratio greater than the standard cutoff for lymphedema.


This was a single-site study conducted in the outpatient setting in Australia.

Study Design:

The study used a pre/post design.

Measurement Instruments/Methods:

Perometry and bioimpedance techniques were used.


No statistically or clinically significant effect was found between the use of massage and limb volume with either study group.


A single session of lymphatic massage did not reduce lymphedema.


The sample size was small, with fewer than 30 participants.

Nursing Implications:

 Findings suggest that a single session of lymphatic massage does not have any effect on arm volume in women with or without lymphedema.