I reserved this week’s Massage and Pathology column for a very special talk from a reader and guest poster, Melanie Bowen. Melanie Bowen has been an awareness advocate for the Mesothelioma Alliance since 2011 and will be sharing with us how the introduction of massage therapy can help provide pain relief and restore well-being in cancer patients.
The Many Benefits of Massage Therapy for Cancer Patients
Contributor: Melanie Bowen
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, therapeutic massage can be beneficial for cancer patients on a large-scale basis, including an enhanced quality of life, reduced symptoms and even better coping with the stress of cancer and the obstacles that a serious health problem like cancer can cause with normal daily life.
The report by the NIH notes that there is concrete short-term evidence that massage therapy can reduce pain and stress levels, there is strong suggestive evidence that massage therapy can help teach cancer patients how to focus on the mind/body relationship in a way that reduces suffering on a long-term basis as well.
About Massage Therapy
According to the University of Minnesota, there are over 80 different types of massage therapy, but essentially the definition of massage therapy is the manual manipulation of the muscles, tendons, connective tissue and ligaments in the body.
Massage therapy is most commonly offered in two specific styles – relaxation and clinical.
Relaxation massage is meant to help reduce stress and help the patient relax and includes Swedish massage, hot stone therapy and chair massage. This is accomplished using friction, kneading, gentle shaking, rocking, and percussion movements, as well as vibration and stretching as common techniques.
Clinical massage is a more targeted style of massage meant to address specific issues, such as sports injuries, pain, reduce or release scar tissue, nerve compression, or muscle tightness. Types of clinical massage may include orthopedic, athletic, lymphatic drainage, rehabilitation, myofascial trigger point or release and post-injury massage. Common techniques include direct pressure, deep gliding, stretching, traction, and skin rolling, among others.
Massage Therapy and Cancer
Typically, a combination of both relaxation and clinical massage is used with cancer patients with the goal of reducing pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, stress and depression. Massage therapy can also help cancer patients experience an increase in energy, better sleep, and an improved sense of personal wellbeing, coping mechanisms and symptom control. Note that these benefits occur in patients with a variety of cancer types, such as mesothelioma, lung or breast cancer, as well as others.
Massage therapy can help reduce pain by manipulating soft tissue and nerves, which cause positive biochemical changes in the body, improved oxygen supply to the muscles and better blood flow overall. In addition, massage therapy may help the central nervous system and the meridian energy chain reinterpret pain differently, thereby reducing pain over time.
According to the NIH article, although study participants experienced a myriad of benefits from massage therapy, the greatest reported benefit was reduced depression and anxiety, with several cancer patients reporting similar results to that of psychotherapy.
Other factors that may affect the effects of the massage therapy include simple elements such as aroma, environment and music, although the relationship between the massage therapist and the cancer patient are also important.
Massage Therapy Qualifications
Cancer patients seeking a massage therapist should be careful to find a licensed, certified massage therapist with experience and knowledge in medical massage. The massage therapist must note and accommodate some of the issues that cancer patients experience, such as a low platelet count, pain, and a tendency to bruise or break bones easily.
In addition, patients should find a massage therapist with whom they feel comfortable and trust, which will aid in relaxation and may even improve the beneficial results of the massage therapy when used as a long-term therapy program.
Melanie Brown joined the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance in 2011 as an awareness advocate for natural health and cancer cure initiatives. You can often find her highlighting the great benefits of alternative nutritional, emotional and physical treatments on those diagnosed with cancer or other serious illnesses. She also assists in social media outreach in her efforts to spread efforts to spread awareness. She currently resides in New York.