Popular Forms of Massage Therapy for Cancer Patients
By: Melanie L. Bowen
Cancer patients commonly suffer from fatigue, nausea, anxiety and pain due to their illness and its treatments. In recent years, alternative cancer therapies have grown in popularity, and massage therapy is one of the most popular treatments being explored. Numerous types of massage, including Swedish massage, acupressure and Reiki, are being used to improve cancer patients’ quality of life and treatment outcome. Below is a look at the most popular forms of massage for cancer and special considerations in their usage.
Reiki is a form of Japanese complementary medicine where healers place their hands on or above patients to relax and treat them. Although the therapy’s premise of modifying the flow of energy through the body has not been proven by mainstream medicine, there is no doubt about the treatment’s ability to relax and refresh sick cancer patients. Reiki recipients report improved mood and deeper sleep, both important ingredients in immune support. Cancer patients currently receiving treatment because it’s often gentler than other forms of massage also often prefer Reiki.
Swedish massage is the most common type of massage performed in the United States, involving the manipulation of the body’s muscles by a masseuse. Whether this form of massage is appropriate depends on the health of each cancer patient; individuals currently in treatment may be less partial to the harsher Swedish techniques. Still, Swedish massage can improve circulation, enhance lymphatic functioning and treat issues with anxiety and low mood.
Acupressure is a very old form of Chinese medicine in which pressure is placed on specific points on patients’ bodies to change the flow of their energy and promote healing. Shiatsu is a similar type of massage originating in Japan, and Tui Na is an older form of Chinese medicine that combines acupressure with other techniques. Studies have shown acupressure to improve sleep quality and reduce fatigue among recovering cancer patients.
In addition, some studies suggest that acupressure can reduce nausea resulting from chemotherapy and radiation. Western medicine doesn’t yet understand acupressure, but some scientists believe that it may work by causing a release of endorphins. One benefit of acupressure is that patients on themselves when necessary can use it.
During Treatment, Light Touch is Important
During recovery, massage treatment can include deep-tissue techniques without causing problems, but lighter touch should be used while treatment is ongoing. Heavier techniques could possibly disturb post-surgery healing, injection sites or tumor locations. Although some concerns have been raised in the past concerning the possibility of massage spreading cancer cells, this is no longer believed to be an issue. Nevertheless, cancer patients can likely benefit from choosing a massage therapist who specializes in treating individuals with cancer.
Patients should always speak with their doctors before pursuing complementary therapy such as massage, whether they have breast cancer, leukemia or mesothelioma. Although massage therapy hasn’t been shown to cure cancer, it can clearly play a significant role as a supportive therapy in cancer treatment plans.