Did you know neonatal massage has been shown to be one of the most impactful non-pharmacologic pain preventatives?

Neonatal pain and stress from repeated procedures has long-lasting consequences.  Health care providers strive to protect infants from pain, but pharmacologic treatments may also have short term and long term consequences.  In a 2021 article, authors discussed the use of massage for pain prevention and treatment.  A search was performed using MEDLINE, CINAHL, Scopus, and EMBASE to find evidence for massage therapy as analgesia in the NICU.

A total of 15 studies published between 2006 and 2021, with 1,058 neonates in 9 countries were included in this literature review.  Infants ranged from 25-42 weeks.  Common procedures found in the review included: IM injections, SQ injections, heel sticks, venipuncture, IV start and central line insertion.  Pain caused by these common procedures can lead to altered pain perception and sensitivity, developmental delays, behavioral and emotional challenges, cognitive delays, anxiety and depression.  Touch has long been understood to reduce pain and stress, and massage is one of the earliest medical treatments.

Massage has many benefits including: increased weight gain and growth, stabilization of vital signs, improved sleep, improved feeding, and improved development, but the mechanism for pain control is not well understood.  The literature review determined massage showed the lowest pain scores when compared to other non-pharmacologic interventions such as non-nutritive sucking, sucrose, breastfeeding, and being held by the mother, despite differences in duration or technique.

In summary, human touch has long-lasting, positive impacts on babies, parents and caregivers. Neonatal massage is cost-effective, simple, holistic, and widely used. Although a limited number of studies have been conducted, massage has been found to be effective, with little to no side-effects compared to pharmacologic interventions.

Fitri, S., Khadidjah, S., Nurhidayah, I., Maryam, N. (2021). Massage Therapy as a Non-pharmacological Analgesia for Procedural Pain in Neonates: A Scoping Review. Contemporary Therapies in Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2021.102735.