Nurse, Can I Offer You a Chair Massage?

Laurie Scudder, DNP, NP


October 29, 2012

Feasibility and Effect of Chair Massage Offered to Nurses During Work Hours on Stress-Related Symptoms: A Pilot Study

Engen DJ, Wahner-Roedler DL, Vincent A, et al
Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2012;18:212-215

Stress: It's Part of the Job

Stress is often viewed as just part of a nurse's job. However, chronic stress is associated with a number of physical and psychological symptoms and may lead to missed days at work, work dissatisfaction, and burnout, potentially contributing to nurses leaving their places of employment. Massage may be an effective intervention at least for alleviating short-term stress. The purpose of this study was to assess the feasibility of integrating chair massage into the daily workload of a small group of inpatient and outpatient nurses and measure its efficacy in alleviating stress-related symptoms.

Methods. This single-arm study was conducted in an inpatient psychiatric unit and outpatient pain management clinic. All 203 nurses working in these 2 units were invited to participate; 40 agreed, though 2 were subsequently excluded because they did not complete the baseline assessment. The nurses were invited to schedule a weekly 15-minute chair massage for a total of 10 weeks. Massages were scheduled during work hours and the participants were expected to arrange massages to take place during a break or lunch period and to ensure coverage of their responsibilities during that time.

All participants completed a series of questionnaires at baseline, 5 weeks, and 10 weeks. The tools assessed overall quality of life, perceived stress, cognitive and somatic anxiety-related symptoms, and current levels of anxiety, insomnia, physical symptoms such as musculoskeletal pain and headache, and self-reported mood, energy level, and job satisfaction. Participants were also encouraged to provide anecdotal comments about their massage experiences.

Findings: The 38 participants (5 men and 33 women) ranged in age from 21 to 65 years. Most (84%) worked 8-hour shifts and the rest worked 12-hour shifts. Scores from baseline to week 10, the last week of massages, were improved in all of the administered tools, and in aggregate indicated improvements in stress and anxiety-related symptoms. There were no significant differences between men and women or between inpatient and outpatient nurses. Nurses working 12-hour shifts, however, reported significantly more benefit in the latter half of the study period than nurses working shorter shifts. Nearly all (92%) of the nurses had positive comments about the massage program, reporting better sleep, reduced pain, and improved stress and anxiety. Most (79%) reported improved job satisfaction and more than half (61%) indicated that they would be willing to pay for chair massages if regularly available at their work place.


This study has a number of limitations, including a small, nonrandomized sample and no control group. However, the results are in line with those of other small studies. Although some massage appointments were not filled, perhaps as a result of busy patient schedules, most of the appointment slots were taken. The improvements in nurses' physical and emotional health, and the resultant increase in job satisfaction, should be of interest to healthcare administrators. Certainly there are cost and logistical issues to work out should employers decide to provide massage as a work benefit to nursing staff. But it seems reasonable to speculate that those costs would be compensated for by improvements in productivity and decreases in work burnout and employee turnover.