Many of us are aware that massage is helpful at relieving stress, anxiety, and pain and evoking an overall feeling of calmness and well-being. It promotes the activity of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, lymphatic, and nervous systems in a healthy manner. There are many different types of massage techniques -- nearly 100, as a matter of fact. Each technique is uniquely designed to achieve a specific goal. Here is a list of the most common ones.
- Aromatherapy: Plant oil extracts are massaged into the skin and can have a powerful effect on mood.
- Craniosacral: This gentle massage to the head and spine can correct imbalances and improve cerebrospinal fluid flow to these areas.
- Lymphatic: A rhythmic massage can help improve lymph activity and ward off infection and disease.
- Shiatsu: Hand pressure is applied to specific points on the body to relieve pain and to help enhance the flow of energy.
- Reflexology: This is a type of thumb and finger technique applied to the hands and feet. Some therapists believe that these areas have trigger points that have "connections" to organs and structures throughout the body.
- Compassionate touch: This sensitive massage may be applied to the elderly or hospice patients to help enhance their quality of life.
Is massage helpful or harmful to the cancer patient?
Many sources advocate the use of massage for patients affected by cancer. This type of treatment may appeal to patients, because it allows them to feel better by potentially decreasing symptoms of pain, nausea, vomiting, depression, and anxiety. It also allows the patient to take control. The massage techniques mentioned above may be beneficial in achieving this goal, but how do we know when massage therapy is helpful or harmful?
At the time of diagnosis, during treatment, and after treatment, it is important for cancer patients to consult with their medical oncologist or radiation oncologist before receiving massage therapy. Though massage is considered relatively safe, patients with certain conditions related to cancer and cancer treatment should avoid it.
- Massage therapy may further harm tissue that has already been damaged by chemotherapy and radiation.
- Neutropenia leaves a patient at higher risk for infection.
- Thrombocytopenia may lead to excessive bruising and bleeding if the massage is too vigorous. It is also important to note that patients with DIC may have microemboli in multiple areas of the body that can become dislodged by massage.
- Massage to an extremity where lymph nodes have been removed (such as in the case of a breast cancer patient) may cause or make lymphedema worse.
- Patients with bone metastasis can be fragile to the touch, and even applying mild or moderate pressure may cause more damage.
Obviously, there may be other situations where massage therapy is contraindicated. A highly trained massage therapist should always consult with the oncologist beforehand and have a thorough understanding regarding the issues associated with the cancer and its treatment.
There has been ongoing research to assess the benefit of massage therapy for the cancer patient and whether it should be a necessary component of overall cancer care. Here is a study that was conducted in 2007. It may be difficult to assess the validity from a medical standpoint, because patient responses may be more subjective rather than objective findings.
Do you feel massage therapy should be part of cancer care? Also, should it qualify for insurance coverage? I personally have not seen either to be the case, but I did previously work with an oncology nurse who was also a massage therapist, and she provided massage care for in-home hospice patients, though this was her own private business.
I would like to see this type of therapy incorporated into a cancer treatment plan, but most insurance companies will not provide coverage for preventive/complimentary related care -- even though it may decrease the need for certain medications and frequent hospitalizations due to treatment-related side effects.