Cancer and Massage Therapy

As massage therapy moves forward into the twenty first century as a complementary alternative medicine along with acupuncture, physical therapy, structural integration, and yoga, we legitimate massage therapists continue to educate and inform the public not only about the benefits of massage but also strive to make massage therapy a viable health alternative to more radical procedures prescribed by physicians. Among the many pathologies that massage therapy is a beneficial treatment is cancer. Currently there are few clinical studies on the effects of massage therapy in cancer patients and the studies are inconclusive which means that more research is necessary. However, many aspects of the studies are able to point to how massage therapy is useful to cancer survivors – those living with cancer as well as those who are in remission.

Massage therapy has been linked to decreased anxiety among cancer survivors. The diagnosis and treatment of cancer is a stressful experience. Many of the treating physician’s prescribed procedures such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are uncomfortable and painful procedures that contribute to feelings of anxiety. Many people experience depression and the medications and procedures can trigger nausea. In addition to lowering anxiety levels, massage has been attributed to decreasing the bouts of depression among cancer survivors as well as easing the pain associated with prescribed procedures and resulting muscle tension. The main goal of a massage for a cancer survivor is to relax and reenergize thereby decreasing pain and discomfort.

You may have heard that massage should be avoided with those living with cancer. You may have heard that there was a risk of massage spreading the cancer to other areas. This is far from the truth. Though there are contraindications to be aware of and certain precautions that need to be undertaken by the massage therapist, massage can be a favorable therapy both before and after traditional treatment. It is important to note that if you are living with cancer and want to get a massage, it is better to contact a licensed massage therapist who has specific training with cancer and massage. Many massage therapy programs teach the very basics and do not offer extensive study of massage for cancer or offer clinics with cancer survivors. Many cancer treatment centers such as Memorial Sloane-Kettering in New York City or the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts offer massage to their patients and require advanced training and specific continuing education from their massage therapists.

There are many modalities to choose from when seeking relief from the physical and emotional toll caused by cancer. There are also a few guidelines to follow. It is better to receive your massage before a chemotherapy session and to wait at least two days after a chemotherapy session or a week after radiation before scheduling your massage appointment. Again, be sure your therapist has advanced training in Oncology care. According to Tracy Walton, award winning educator and author of Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy: A Decision Tree, a treating LMT should be educated on the different treatments and offer a thorough initial intake and be able to confidently explain any necessary massage modifications before and during the treatment. Your therapist should have sound clinical judgment and communicate clearly. Building a mutual rapport and trust with one another is a key to successful massage treatments. Before getting a massage ALWAYS obtain a physician’s written permission to give to your massage therapist. Together, with your physician and massage therapist, you can formulate a treatment plan designed to help you make it through your diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare with pain relief and reduction of stress the primary goal of your massage treatments.

Kip Yates, LMT was trained at the Swedish Institute in New York City and is New York State and Texas State licensed. He is owner and operator of Massage Refresh in New York City where he provides Swedish wellness and recuperative Deep Tissue massage that encompasses myofascial release and trigger point therapy. Kip lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children and also practices at Physiofitness Physical Therapy in Soho.

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