Cancer patients at almost every stage of their experience are finding comfort in the hands of skilled massage therapists, as it aims to treat the whole person not just the symptoms of the disease. So, it comes as no surprise to learn that massage therapy is one of the most popular, complementary therapies used by people living with cancer.
About Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is the treatment of the muscles and soft tissues in your body. It can help lower stress, ease tension in your muscles and make you feel more relaxed.
Did you know that in Canada, the most common form of massage therapy is Swedish massage? This popular treatment is administered by rubbing the muscles with long gliding strokes in the direction of blood returning to the heart.
General benefits of massage therapy for patients going through chemotherapy are the following:
- reduces stress
- increases relaxation
- improves sleep
- stimulates bowel activity
- promotes blood and lymph circulation
- improves immune system function
- provides pain relief
- increases alertness and mental clarity
- provides pleasant touch experience
In addition to the general health benefits of a good massage, cancer patients have reported relief from a number of the mental and emotional discomforts related to the disease and its treatment.
The emotional benefits of massage therapy during chemotherapy might include:
- Decreases of anxiety and depression
- Increases the feeling of well-being
- Relieves feelings of isolation
- Offers a meaningful social interaction
- Provides a pleasant distraction
- Helps re-establish a positive body image
In some cases, massage therapy can also help post-surgery with the following elements:
- Faster recovery from anesthesia
- Increases elasticity to scarred areas
- Breaks up adhesions related to scarring
- Reduces need for pain medication
- Decreases edema and lymphedema
- Relieves muscle soreness due to prolonged bed rest
- Helps prevent bedsores
- Shortens hospital stays
Side Effects and Risks of Massage Therapy: What You Should Know
- Be sure to tell your RMT that you have cancer, and any treatments that you have had or having, along with any medicines that you are currently taking.
- In order to avoid bruising, patients on blood thinners should only receive a light-touch massage. Also, if you have bone metastasis, having physical manipulation or deep pressure massage may lead to a fracture.
- If you have had radiation therapy, you may find it uncomfortable to have the treatment area touched, even lightly. If you do find massage comfortable but are still receiving radiation treatment, ask your therapist not to use lotion on the area that receives radiation.
- Do not receive a massage if you have a fever or infection.
- Cancer may spread (metastasis) into the lymphatic system via the lymph nodes, or it may start in the lymphatic system itself. However, the circulation of lymph- from massage or other movement- does not cause cancer to spread. Researchers have shown that cancer develops and spreads because of changes to a cell’s DNA (genetic mutations) and other processes in the body.
- Massage therapy is considered safe for cancer patients but if you have any concerns, please talk to your oncologist.