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The benefits of massage therapy for cancer patients

Many cancer patients across the world use massage therapy to enhance their quality of life whilst undergoing treatment. Various studies have proven that massage therapy has many short-term benefits for cancer patients, especially in terms of psychological well-being and the reduction of certain symptoms. This complimentary treatment is widely used alongside medical intervention because it helps cancer patients to mentally cope with their illness.
How is it safe for cancer patients?

Light, gentle massage can be safely given to people with cancer or any stage. Whilst this is the case, tumour and treatment sites should be avoided, as to prevent pain and discomfort on the affected area. Whilst the lymphatic system works to circulate lymphatic fluid around the body, it will not spread cancer cells. Many people worry that massage could cause their illness to spread via this system, but that is not the case. Although cancer may spread on its own, massage therapy will in no way speed up or instigate the process.

Massage styles

massage styles for cancer

Swedish Massage- Swedish massage is one of the most commonly practiced styles in the world and is the basis for many other hybrid styles. This massage is made up of four key techniques: effleurage, petrissage, friction and tapotement, all of which are designed to ease tension in the body and relax the mind.

Trigger-point therapy (myotherapy) – this massage style focuses on stretching the myofascial tissue through sustained contact with certain pressure points. This helps to relieve pain. Generally, trigger points are located in tight bands of muscle, which may direct pain to other parts of the body For example, relieving tight trigger points in the back could help to ease some pain in the shoulders, and therefore reduce headaches.

Lymphatic drainage- This is a therapeutic massage treatment that uses light pressure and rhythmic strokes to increase the flow of lymph and allows for toxins to be flushed from the body. The lymph is part of the body’s immune system which helps to tackle infection and illness. This massage style essentially reduces edema and helps to boost immunity.

Neuromuscular therapy- This style uses stationary pressure on certain myofascial points to alleviate pain. This technique balances the central nervous system by manipulating soft tissues in the body.

Reflexology- Reflexologists believe that manipulation of the feet and hands can heal specific areas of the body. It is said that the hands and feet contain links that connect to every part of the body, and massage centred on these areas can be beneficial, not just for the hands and feet.

Polarity therapy- Developed by Randolf Stone, polarity therapy believes that pain and aliments are preserved in concert with relaxation and awareness. This treatment combines therapeutic body work with dietary adjustments and healing content to create holistic wellness.

Shiatsu- The ancient art of Shiatsu uses pressure to remove ‘qi’ blockages along the meridians. Trained massage therapists apply pressure to specific areas of the body in order to stimulate energy flow which is believed to be healing.

Thai massage- Thai massage is a form of body work that incorporates yoga-like movements with every meridian work. Thai massage is believed to be incredibly relaxing, and is said to bring holistic well-being for clients.

Studies

–    A 2002 study looked to test the effectiveness of aromatherapy as a complimentary treatment for cancer patients. The study looked at 10 studies, including 8 randomised trials and found that massage consistently reduced depression and anxiety amongst cancer sufferers. Similarly, they also found that massage therapy helped to lessen nausea and pain- but not as consistently as the previous set of data. (See link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15106172)

–    In 2004, an American study took place to analyse the effects of massage therapy on almost 13,000 cancer sufferers who had contracted the disease over three years ago. 20-minute massages were prescribed to the people in hospital, whereas outpatients were given 6—minute sessions. The results showed that overall, massage therapy successfully lessened pain, fatigue, nausea, depression and anxiety; the best results coming from the outpatients who has received longer massages.  (see link: https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/17958/b1000/massage-and-cancer-42/massage-and-cancer-benefits-of-touch)

–    An American study sought to find out whether 20-minute massage sessions were effective in reducing stress levels amongst haematology patients. This randomised controlled trial select 39 patients who were instructed to have aromatherapy, massage or rest. Researchers found that massage significantly reduced levels of cortisol in the body, which is known to cause stress. As such, massage was proved to lower stress for patients with blood cancer. (See link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18300336)

How to get a massage

book a massage

Although massage therapy is proven to lessen pain, anxiety, stress in cancer patients, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s appropriate for every sufferer. Massage for a healthy person is easy to come by, but cancer patients need to take more precautions before scheduling a session.

Patients must firstly:

Consult their oncologist- Massage therapy as a complimentary treatment should only be explored with the approval of a doctor. This is to ensure the massage won’t cause you further pain. Approach your doctor and discuss with him/her your thoughts about combining your treatment with massage therapy. He/her will assess you fully before deciding on a plan of action.

Locate a licensed therapist who specialises in the area- A normal massage therapist won’t do, you’ll need to find one who has experienced dealing with cancer patients. Massage therapists with such experience will normally have some kind of specific training attached to their achievements, and will have a minimum of 24 hours of training in oncology massage. This means they will have briefly studied cancer and how to modify massage techniques in order to avoid causing injury or pain.

Do not get your massage before you’ve had an assessment- A qualified and trained masseuse will always assess you before starting a session. It is important that they have been made aware of your condition, but more specifically, the areas in which to avoid to be particularly gentle with. A legitimate therapist will delve into your history of treatment, and will ask questions regarding your diagnoses, treatments, diagnostic tests, activity levels and symptoms.

Whilst cancer patients should never neglect their medicinal treatment, massage therapy is a harmless and incredibly complimentary treatment for people with this horrible disease. For all of the cancer patients reading this post- please be aware that massage will not cure you, but it will certainly help in many ways. You’ll certainly feel at peace, even if it is just briefly!

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