Labor can often be an extremely painful, stressful, long process that leaves the woman exhausted, distressed, and uncomfortable. Anything that can help lessen the pain and anxiety related to labor and delivery should be taken into consideration.
In December of 2012, the British Columbia Women’s Hospital in Vancouver conducted a randomized controlled trial to study the effects of massage therapy in managing labor pain. This study is the first published study on labor pain where massage therapy was provided by a regulated massage therapist.
The randomized controlled trial consisted of 77 women; 37 received massage during labor and 40 women received standard care (routine medical care without massage therapy). To be part of the study, some of the required criteria included first time term pregnancy, single gestation, with the maternal age between 18 and 35. All women were also given the option to use non-invasive pain management techniques.
In the massage group, women received Swedish massage therapy from a registered therapist during active labor for up to 5 hours. The women could choose to pause the massage at any time, or have it conducted intermittently. If the woman chose to have an epidural, massage was then stopped.
The authors of the study created a hypothesis stating that massage therapy would lengthen the time before a woman would choose to use an epidural (as measured by greater cervical dilation). The secondary focus was on measures of labor pain and outcome, including many factors such as contraction pain, length of stages of labor, need for narcotic or other analgesia, cervical dilation at the time of epidural insertion, and mode of delivery.
The women in the massage group received an epidural at a higher cervical dilation than the women in the routine care group (roughly 1 cm difference). Pain levels were also consistently lower in the massage group as reported on the McGill Pain Questionnaire, but the results were not statistically significant.
Further research is needed in order to obtain concrete results; expanded sample sizes would help identify significant effects of massage therapy during labor.