OBJECTIVES: To evaluate whether a series of eight 15 min, on-site massage treatments would be effective in reducing pain and tension in nursing staff at a large teaching hospital.HYPOTHESES: On-site massage treatment would result in reduced pain intensity and tension levels and increased relaxation compared with a control group receiving seated rest.DESIGN: Randomized, controlled trial of eight sessions of Swedish massage therapy versus eight sessions of seated rest.PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-two hospital staff (29 registered nurses and three clerical staff) volunteers.SETTING: Participants were recruited from a tertiary care centre.OUTCOME MEASURES: Pulse rate (beats/min), pain measured using a 10 cm Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), tension (VAS), relaxation (yes/no) and the Profile of Mood States (POMS) were measured before and after each session.RESULTS: The groups did not differ significantly on baseline demographic variables or in attendance rates. Post-treatment VAS pain, VAS tension, and total POMS scores showed the same pattern of results: one-way ANCOVAs revealed a significant effect of the covariate (mean pretreatment score averaged across sessions attended) and a significant main effect for groups indicating that post-treatment pain, tension and POMS scores were significantly lower in the massage group than in he seated rest group (all P<0.001). A greater proportion of the massage group reported a sense of relaxation, and had pain and tension relief that persisted for up to a day or longer post massage (P<0.0009).CONCLUSIONS: The provision of on-site massage treatments for nursing staff at a large teaching hospital resulted in significant reductions in pain and tension levels and an increase in overall mood compared with a control group that received seated rest.