While massage may not reduce scarring, it might help reduce pain and itching during wound healing.

Many people think that massaging a wound with ointment can bolster the wound healing process and, in turn, reduce the appearance of scarring. The idea seems to make sense: Massage stimulates the skin and, as some might be led to believe, could encourage cellular movement and growth. However, research has found that massage might not be so beneficial after all.

As the National Institutes of Health points out, it’s a widely held belief that massaging petroleum jelly or vitamin E into the affected area after the scar has begun to develop has a positive effect. Some think it helps to fade prevent the tissue from developing into a darker, more noticeable scar, and that it even helps fade already-developed scars. However, there is no solid scientific evidence to suggest this, and the NIH advises against rubbing your scar or applying any topical ointments to it without the approval of a clinician.

Little research has been done to investigate the role of massage on wound healing. A 2012 evaluation published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery was one of the few to explore the subject, assessing data from 10 different studies that tested scar massage on a total of 144 patients. The duration of massaging varied by study, but the overall results showed that there is little evidence that massage reduced the appearance of scarring.

It’s worth noting that the scientists noticed a difference between results in subjects based on scar type: Those with surgical wounds had less scarring than those with lesions not created in a controlled setting. Further research into the subject may someday reveal that massage therapy does in fact aid in wound healing in post-surgical wounds, but more evidence is still needed.

Other applications for massage in wound care

While the evaluation revealed that massage has little effect on wound healing, other studies have found that it may help reduce symptoms related to recovery. Scientists from the University of Miami School of Medicine published a study in the Journal of Burn Care & Rehabilitation that looked into the physiological and psychological effects of massage.

It involved 20 patients who suffered burn injuries, each randomly assigned to a massage therapy group or a control group that received standard wound care. The massages were conducted twice per week for five weeks using cocoa butter. At the end of the study, those who received massage therapy reported lower levels of pain, itching and anxiety as well as better moods, compared to the control group.

With that in mind, massage may benefit certain people experiencing pain, itching and other uncomfortable sensations during wound healing. It may also be of good use for those who are mentally or emotionally affected. Talk to your clinician about massage before attempting the technique on your own, as rubbing your wound or applying chemicals to it could cause further harm.

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in delivering specialized wound care supplies to patients, delivering to both homes and long-term care facilities.