Massage or music for pain relief in labour

Research on massage therapy for maternal pain and anxiety in labour is currently limited to four small trials. Each used different massage techniques, at different frequencies and durations, and relaxation techniques were included in three trials. Given the need to investigate massage interventions that complement maternal neurophysiological adaptations to labour and birth pain(s), we designed a pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) to test the effects of a massage programme practised during physiological changes in pain threshold, from late pregnancy to birth, on women’s reported pain, measured by a visual analogue scale (VAS) at 90 min following birth. To control for the potential bias of the possible effects of support offered within preparation for the intervention group, the study included 3 arms – intervention (massage programme with relaxation techniques), placebo (music with relaxation techniques) and control (usual care). The placebo offered a non-pharmacological coping strategy, to ensure that use of massage was the only difference between intervention and placebo groups. There was a trend towards slightly lower mean pain scores in the intervention group but these differences were not statistically significant. No differences were found in use of pharmacological analgesia, need for augmentation or mode of delivery. There was a trend towards more positive views of labour preparedness and sense of control in the intervention and placebo groups, compared with the control group.

These findings suggest that regular massage with relaxation techniques from late pregnancy to birth is an acceptable coping strategy that merits a large trial with sufficient power to detect differences in reported pain as a primary outcome measure.