Painkillers are probably one of the greatest postoperative gifts. Being cut open, rearranged and sewn back together is traumatic for the body, and the pain following surgery is often extreme. As medicine begins to embrace more complementary therapies, the effect of massage on surgical patients has become the subject of a growing body of research.
Evidence shows that massage can assist with postoperative care not only physically, but also psychologically. Stress, anxiety and tension all affect the body, so it makes sense that relaxation treatments like massage might aid in recovery. A tensed body tends to feel more pain [source: National Pain Foundation]. That's why you might have heard that you should exhale while ripping a Band-Aid off a wound -- holding your breath makes you tense. Along those lines, studies suggest that patients who receive regular massage therapy, like daily foot massage or back massage, may experience less pain than their counterparts who are not massaged [sources: ScienceDaily, UCSF].
Many studies have confirmed at least a small pain management advantage with therapies like Swedish massage and, less often, acupressure of the foot. Swedish massage is the typical type of massage many of us are familiar with -- kneading with the fingers and hands, primarily. Acupressure uses pressure points that correspond to different points on the body to increase energy flow to that body part (see How does acupressure work?). Whatever else these therapies do, there's scientific evidence that they reduce stress and tension, a definite benefit when it comes to recovering from surgery -- especially surgery for a condition like heart disease, which has proven connections to stress.
Another type of foot massage called reflexology claims to do far more than relax a patient into reduced pain. In reflexology, the way to a patient's pain is, literally, through the feet.