Oncology massage therapy has been touching the lives of cancer patients for years. Professionals blend art and science to bring relief and a renewed sense of peace and well-being to patients worldwide. But how exactly is massage used and why is it so important? Below we discuss the benefits of this practice.
Why Oncology Massage?
Believe it or not, Oncology massage was once frowned upon as a positive intervention for offering relief for cancer patients. It was believed that increased circulation in the body could actually have a negative impact on the spread of cancer cells.
Not anymore. Recent evidence-based research has dispelled this misperception. Both patients and doctors now recognize massage as a beneficial form of rehabilitative therapy.
“Massage therapy is not just for relaxation,” said Ericka Clinton, Dean of the Massage Therapy Program at Swedish Institute in New York City. “By applying various types of oncology massage therapy for specific symptoms, we can reduce some of the negative side-effects cancer patients are experiencing.”
How massage eases physical symptoms
Oncology massage therapy can help reduce some of the most common physical symptoms cancer patients experience, such as nausea, fatigue and pain.
Nausea: Acupressure has been proven to relieve nausea. By applying Eastern massage techniques like those used in Shiatsu, massage therapists can access energetic channels as they touch specific points (which are the same points that are used in acupuncture) to dispel nausea. This type of touch also helps distract the patient and change their focus, thus helping them feel less nauseous.
Fatigue: Patients undergoing chemotherapy have been known to experience relentless bouts of fatigue. Combining Swedish and Shiatsu massage techniques, therapists can help improve circulation in the body, which in turn can make the fatigue feel less pronounced. The soothing touch also helps the patient relax and rest, allowing them to sleep better and help the body recover.
Pain: Cancer treatment often involves surgery. Massage therapy helps to improve the rigidity of scar tissue and allows it to settle in a more organized fashion within the body. This type of massage can support the person’s new physical normal.
And emotional symptoms
Although cancer patients experience many physiological side effects while undergoing treatment, it’s the emotional and mental distress that may go unnoticed. Oncology massage can help improve a patient’s sense of well-being by:
- Elevating moods
- Warding off depression
- Helping patients feel less isolated
The Massage Therapy Department at Swedish Institute is sensitive to the challenges cancer patients face every day. At a time in their lives when the mind, body and spirit may be in a fragile state, it’s comforting for patients to know they have options that can help them feel whole again.
“It’s an honor to do what we do,” said Clinton. “Oncology massage therapy is a positive intervention to help patients feel as healthy and complete as possible.”
Tailoring massage to each patient
Massage therapists are sensitive to the fact that their patients may be in a fragile state. They are trained to tap into their wide range of skills to navigate around those patients who may be connected to intravenous lines (IV therapy), catheters or other types of devices. In such cases, the massage therapist may only have access to one area of the body (such as the feet, for example), and must ‘read the body’ to understand all of its needs and then navigate around any obstacles. In these instances, the therapist can apply the proper touch needed to that area of the body in order to achieve the best result.
Clinton explained that applying massage techniques in a gentler way with lighter pressure, using a broad variety of techniques (Swedish massage, energetic approaches, myofascial approaches) and shorter sessions, can provide patients with a nurturing and supportive touch that can have a great impact on their well-being.
“Not only are we helping patients by reducing their pain and lending them comfort and emotional support,” she said, “we are adding another layer of compassion to our field by taking it to the next level.”