Massage as a palliative treatment

Massage is a proven method of easing muscle pain, releasing tension and improving blood circulation and muscle health.

Many patients and even some massage practitioners are unaware of the healing effects that massage can have for cancer patients. Although much of the literature involving cancer treatment revolves around the newest diagnostic tools, drug treatments or genetic therapies developed by twenty-first-century science, even a therapeutic method as ancient and primitive as massage can be of great help to cancer patients dealing with the pain of the disease and the stress of treatment.

According to Gayle MacDonald, author of “Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer”, massage techniques can be a helpful part of the pain management process for cancer patients, reducing or eliminating the need for many forms of prescription painkillers. She also claims that proper administration of massage can remove many of the toxins that accumulate in the patient’s body as the disease progresses, making them more receptive to conventional treatment methods.

Also, unlike many therapies, patients can receive massage through most of the treatment phases, from initial diagnosis and their first hospital stay, throughout their recovery process, and even at the end when standard treatments have failed. Ms. MacDonald also wrote that patients could benefit from touch therapies regardless of the severity of the side effects that come with many treatment methods, such as radiation therapy or heavy chemotherapy doses.

Several studies examining the benefits of massage on cancer patients have concluded that one of the side effects that touch therapies help to alleviate is the nausea brought on by conventional treatment methods. A nursing study showed evidence that massage therapies that stimulated certain acupressure points on the body were effective in reducing nausea and other similar symptoms in patients undergoing certain types of chemotherapy.

Another study showed that massage treatments could improve a cancer patient’s sleep patterns, lessen fatigue and create a less stressful environment. Cancer patients often have a difficult time in getting a good night’s sleep due to the stresses of the treatments, the side effects and the financial impact of the diagnosis as much as the disease itself. When patients are able to establish better and more restful sleep patterns, their bodies are better equipped to handle the rigors of treatment.

From a mental and emotional standpoint, effective massage therapies can also reduce much of the stress and anxiety that cancer patients endure. For many years, cancer patients were considered “untouchable”. Many laymen, and even some medical professionals, were fearful of touching patients, as if the disease could be passed by skin contact.

Now, both medical researchers and massage practitioners understand the psychological benefits that come with simple human touch, especially for those patients that have a strong need for such an affirmation. Cheryl Chapman, a former oncology nurse and current massage therapist, has employed massage therapy with cancer patients. In her experience, “there isn’t anyone who is untouchable”.

A study published in the journal “Cancer Nursing” showed that thirty minutes of massage therapy could reduce pain and anxiety indicators. The study showed that the patients’ blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate readings were all lowered significantly after receiving therapeutic massage. The results also showed a decrease in the patients’ anxiety and pain levels from before the session.

One of the most beneficial effects of massage, as many regular users and practitioners understand, is that therapeutic techniques help improve circulation and break up lactic acid buildup in tired or strained muscles. When a patient’s circulation improves, the chemicals administered by the use of drugs and other chemotherapy treatments can reach the affected areas much easier. The reduction in lactic acid buildup in the muscles can help the patient regain a measure of strength and energy that the side effects of those treatments can take away.

Patients who undergo massage therapy as part of their treatment may express the concern that improved circulation may cause the cancer cells to metastasize and spread to other parts of the body. However, no current scientific evidence supports that idea. In fact, many major cancer centers are prescribing massage therapy as part of the treatment regimen for their patients. Most of the techniques include avoiding areas of the body affected by the cancer and keeping a light touch rather than using deep-tissue massage methods.

Massage has earned the recognition among cancer treatment specialists as a useful supplementary tool in the fight against the disease. While methods like Reiki, myotherapy and effleurage may not cure or diminish the disease itself, they have proven helpful in both lessening the effects of the cancer and giving patients a much-needed physical and emotional boost at critical junctures in the treatment process.

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