• hand massage;
  • hypothalamic–pituitary axis;
  • relaxation;
  • slow-stroke back massage

Background and aims.  In recent years, the nursing profession used technology and pharmacology to relieve conditions such as pain, anxiety and insomnia that were once treated with massage. However, interest in massage has grown with the move to more holistic nursing. This review examines the physiological and psychological effects of slow-stroke back massage and hand massage on relaxation in older people and identifies effective protocols for massage in older people.

Design.  Review.

Methods.  Cooper’s five-stage model was used in the review process. The search strategy included all studies without limiters for dates through June 2009 in the following databases: Ovid Medline, Cochrane databases, PubMed, EBSCO, CINAHL, Health Resource, PychINFO and EMB Reviews 1991–June 2009. The quality of the research was evaluated using the Research Appraisal Checklist. Twenty-one studies met the inclusion criteria for massage, relevance to older people and rigorous research.

Results.  All studies using slow-stroke back massage and hand massage showed statistically significant improvements on physiological or psychological indicators of relaxation. The most common protocols were three-minute slow-stroke back massage and 10-minute hand massage.

Conclusion.  Physiological and psychological indicators suggest the effectiveness of slow-stroke back massage and hand massage in promoting relaxation in older people across all settings.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Studies are needed to analyse the feasibility and cost effectiveness of massage to develop best practices for massage interventions in older people.