Massage and cancer: Is it safe?

Massage therapy after a cancer diagnosis as well as during and after treatment is safe providing your massage therapist is aware of and practices in a manner that takes into consideration a range of precautions.

“Just a relaxation massage” can be so much more. A physically safe and calm environment, a skilled and knowledgeable therapist and clear parameters lay the foundation for a massage that can help access greater calm and clarity.  This in turn serves you well as you process information about cancer, treatment options and adapt to the multiple changes the diagnosis will bring. A design study undertaken at a cancer centre showed that “massage, along with reiki and yoga, helped decrease stress and anxiety, improve mood and enhance overall health and quality of life” for 150 cancer patients. (Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 2016)

“No pain no gain.”    Pain during a massage treatment is an indication of distress in the body, not a sign that the treatment is more effective. Comfort massage during palliative care, scar rehabilitation treatments, post-surgical swelling and regaining range of motion are some of the most common goals of massage for people living with cancer.  Each of these treatment plans require modulating pressure.

“I want a full body massage today.”  Scars in the process of healing, radiated tissue and any area you don’t want massaged are examples of site restrictions that require consideration during a massage treatment.  Your massage therapist will ask questions during intake that tell them what areas are not to be treated on a given day.

“I’d love a massage but I can’t lie face down.”  Adapting position during massage is essential.  Recent abdominal surgery may require that the entire treatment is done with you lying on your back.  Elevating the upper body can be helpful if you struggle to breathe.  Side-lying positions may be the only way to receive a massage if you have an ileostomy.

Massage therapy can be an important part of your care during cancer treatments.  Be sure that your massage therapist is both knowledgeable an skilled in providing treatments that are safe and effective.

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