Oncology Massage is the modification of existing massage therapy techniques in order to safely work with complications of cancer and its treatment. Adaptations to massage are required for the increased risk of lymphedema, the possibility of DVT and blood clots, low blood cell count, radiation or surgery, medications, medical devices, as well as many other potentially complicated adverse effects that may arise. Many cancer treatments require long-term modifications to facilitate the advantages of oncology massage in a way that will incorporate additional precautions for the safety and comfort of the client. Massage has many benefits for people living with cancer. A few are listed below.
Massage Reduces Anxiety
Many clients report being less anxious in general when receiving regular massage. In particular, clients in cancer treatment state that massage eases anxiety before and during uncomfortable procedures and interventions. Research literature reports that massage helps anxiety in patients with cancer and other populations. In repeated studies of various populations, including people with cancer, massage helps reduce depression, as well.
Massage Eases Pain
Recipients of massage therapy express less cancer-related pain, treatment-related pain, and pain related to muscle tension. They claim that massage helps “take the edge off” of acute pain and in some cases relieve it entirely. Although the direction of evidence suggests massage is effective for pain relief, more studies are needed to firmly establish the role of massage in pain relief for people with cancer.
Massage Helps Control Nausea
A few studies have suggested that massage therapy, when combined with other treatments, may reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. It's important to note that when massage therapy is used to help with nausea, it does not mean foregoing medications that are used to both prevent and treat nausea, only that massage may be a useful adjunct to more traditional therapies. This is true when it comes to many cancer-related symptoms, in which a combination of therapies is usually most effective.
Massage Improves Sleep and Eases Fatigue
Again and again, clients tell their massage therapists that massage improves their energy level and helps them sleep better, and clients in cancer treatment are no exception. But sleep can be especially hard to come by during cancer treatment, and cancer fatigue is common and poorly understood—a difficult symptom to treat. People in treatment, often with a high degree of symptom distress, are especially in need of good sleep.
However, it's true that cancer and cancer treatments can put people at risk for complications from massage, so it is important to take some precautions. Because of the different contraindications for massage in this population, it is very important for the massage therapist who is treating a person with a history of cancer - either currently or in the past - to have specialized training in oncology massage, in addition to being a licensed massage therapist. Rae Petersen, owner of East Hill Massage and Aesthetics, Licensed Massage Therapist, and Certified Lymphedema Therapist, received her Oncology Massage training from Tracy Walton & Associates, LLC in June of 2015 and is a preferred practitioner for The Society for Oncology Massage. More information about her training and certifications can be found here.