October 2003, Volume 52 Number 5 , p 318 - 328
SUMMARY: BACKGROUND Spouses of patients with cancer are at risk for stress-related disorders and may experience a reduction in immune function. Therapeutic back massage (TBM) has been shown to enhance relaxation and thus, may reduce stress associated with caring for an ill partner.OBJECTIVES To determine if TBM's influences on psychosocial, physiologic, and immune function variables in spouses of patients with cancer, and explore the relationships between psychosocial variables and immune function in spouses of patients with cancer.METHODS This group experimental design measured the effects of a 20-minute TBM at three time points (preintervention, immediately postintervention, 20 minutes postintervention) on spouses of patients with cancer (N= 42) randomly assigned to either the experimental or control group. The major dependent variables including natural killer cell activity (NKCA), heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, mood, and perceived stress were measured at the three time points to examine the effects of TBM. Data collected on measures of mood and perceived stress were correlated with NKCA to examine their relationships. Prior to hypotheses testing, data collected on measures of depressive mood, loneliness, marital disruption, and health practices were also correlated with NKCA to ascertain any possible confounding variables.RESULTS Two-way repeated measures analysis of variance tests determined the effects of TBM over the two postintervention time points and resulted in significant group x time interactions on mood (F [2, 40]= 14.61, p= .0005) and perceived stress (F [2, 40]= 28.66, p= .001). Significant inverse relationships were found between mood and NKCA (r= -.41, p= .009, N= 42) and perceived stress and NKCA (r= -.37, p= .017, N= 42).DISCUSSION Findings suggest that TBM may enhance mood and reduce perceived stress in this population. Insight was gained into the psycho-immunologic relationships studied.