Massage Therapy Can Improve the Quality of Life for Those in Hospice and Palliative Care

Research has indicated that massage can improve quality of life for individuals in hospice and palliative care.

Position Statement

It is the position of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) that massage therapy can improve the quality of life for those in hospice and palliative care.

Background Information

Recently published studies confirm that massage therapy* is becoming the most frequently offered complementary therapy in hospice and palliative care** 1,2, and National Hospice and Palliative Care (NHPCO) reveals that 38.8% of all U.S. deaths were in hospice care in 20073 - a year in which an estimated 1.4 million Americans received such care3. The quality of life for people in hospice and palliative care is often compromised. Research has shown that massage therapy can provide comfort6,12,13 and relaxation,8,7 and help alleviate the following symptoms and conditions commonly associated with this population:

  • pain 4,5,6,7
  • anxiety 9,6,7,10
  • loss of sleep 7,11,9
  • depression, mood disorders 4,8,10
  • stress 6,11
  • nausea 6,7
  • fatigue 7,8,10


1. Kozak L.E., Kayes L., McCarty R., Walkinshaw C., Congdon S., Kleinberger J., Hartman V., Standish L.J. (2008) Use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by Washington State hospices. The American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care. Dec-2009 Jan;25(6):463-8.
2. Oneschuk D., Balneaves L., Verhoef M., Boon H., Demmer C., Chiu L. (2007) The status of complementary therapy services in Canadian palliative care settings. Support Care Cancer. Aug;15(8):939-47. Epub 2007 Jul 3.
3. Kutner J.S., Smith M.C., Corbin L., Hemphill L., Benton K., Mellis B.K., Beaty B., Felton S., Yamashita T.E., Bryant L.L., Fairclough D.L. (2008) Massage therapy versus simple touch to improve pain and mood in patients with advanced cancer: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. Sep 16;149(6):369-79.
4. Chang S.Y. (2008) Effects of aroma hand massage on pain, state anxiety and depression in hospice patients with terminal cancer. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. Aug;38(4):493-502. Korean. (Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing.)
5. Lafferty W.E., Downey L., McCarty R.L., Standish L.J., Patrick D.L. (2006) Evaluating CAM treatment at the end of life: a review of clinical trials for massage and meditation. Complementary Therapeutic Medicine. Jun;14(2):100-12.
6. Russell N.C., Sumler S.S., Beinhorn C.M., Frenkel M.A. (2008) Role of massage therapy in cancer care. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Mar;14(2):209-14.
7. Cheesman S., Christian R., Cresswell J. (2001) Exploring the value of shiatsu in palliative care day services. International Journal of Palliative Nursing. May;7(5):234-9.
8. Meeks T.W., Wetherell J.L., Irwin M.R., Redwine L.S., Jeste D.V. (2007) Complementary and alternative treatments for late-life depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance: a review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Oct;68(10):1461-71.
9. Mansky P.J., Wallerstedt D.B. (2006) Complementary medicine in palliative care and cancer symptom management. Cancer Journal. Sep-Oct;12(5):425-31.
10. Soden K., Vincent K., Craske S., Lucas C., Ashley S. (2004) A randomized controlled trial of aromatherapy massage in a hospice setting. Palliative Medicine. Mar;18(2):87-92.
11. Magill L., Berenson S. (2008) The conjoint use of music therapy and reflexology with hospitalized advanced stage cancer patients and their families. Palliative & Supportive Care. Sep;6(3):289-96.
12. Bush E. (2001) The use of human touch to improve the well-being of older adults. A holistic nursing intervention. Journal of Holistic Nursing. Sep;19(3):256-70.
13. Meek S.S. (1993) Effects of slow stroke back massage on relaxation in hospice clients. Image—The Journal of Nursing Scholarship. Spring;25(1):17-21.

* Massage therapy as performed by massage therapists working within their scope of practice.
** The National Cancer Institute defines hospice as “A program that provides special care for people who are near the end of life and for their families, either at home, in freestanding facilities, or within hospitals.” 3/18/2009. According to the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine “… palliative care is to prevent and relieve suffering and to support the best possible quality of life for patients and their families, regardless of the stage of the disease or the need for other therapies.” 3/18/2009
Hospice and palliative care is “considered to be the model for quality, compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness or injury, hospice and palliative care involve a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes”. NHPCO Facts and Figures: Hospice Care in America. Alexandria, VA: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, October 2008.

Disclaimer: Position statements of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) are approved by the AMTA House of Delegates and reflect the views and opinions of the association, based on current research. These statements are not expressions of legal opinion relative to scope of practice, medical diagnosis or medical advice, nor do they represent an endorsement of any product, company or specific massage therapy technique, modality or approach.

Originally proposed by Lisa Curran Parenteau, Mary White & Kelly Dalbec

Approved September 2009