Massage is the practice of manipulating, applying pressure, and rubbing or stroking soft tissue and skin to promote physical and mental relaxation, well-being, and circulation. Its purpose is to relax the soft tissues, increase delivery of blood and oxygen to the massaged areas, and release toxins from the muscles. Generally, cancer patients of all ages report that massage (with or without aromatherapy oils) helps them to relax, reduces some of the symptoms of the illness and leaves them feeling more positive and better able to cope with the illness. It may also boost the immune system, enhance lymphatic drainage (see safety/precaution) and encourage self-healing.
There are many different types of massage. Some are gentle, others are more vigourous. Some are based on traditional techniques and theories – others are modern in their approach. Massage may be applied to the whole body, or to just a part of it. The therapist often uses a base oil or blended oils which will nourish the skin. Generally, massage given to patients with cancer should use only very gentle touch techniques, as gentler types may be safer. People with cancer should avoid very deep massage.
On your first visit, the practitioner will discuss symptoms, medical history and the desired results. Oil or powder help reduce friction on the skin and the therapist may use other aids, such as ice, heat, fragrances, or machines. During massage, you can expect to feel relaxed, comfortable and supported physically and emotionally. You will be asked to undress in a private room (removing as much or as little clothing as you feel comfortable with) and to lie on a treatment couch under towels. No body part will be massaged without your consent. The massage will be gentle and soothing and the room warm and peaceful. Treatment will last for up to an hour. Some clinics/individual practitioners offer home visits so do check this when you first contact them.
Therapeutic massage dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures of Arabia, Rome, Greece, and Japan. The ancient Chinese, Indian and Egyptian civilisations used massage to prevent and cure disease, and had a good working knowledge of the healing properties of certain oils (see aromatherapy). Now, in the 21st century, there are many different kinds of massage therapies available, each of which offers specific benefits to the mind and body.
You should check with your doctor before having massage therapy as massage is not suitable for people with certain medical conditions, and may not be suitable for all cancer patients. It is also important to choose a qualified massage therapist who has undertaken all the necessary training to understand the theory and practice of massage therapy. This is especially important if you are having cancer treatment, are very weak, have bone fractures, have heart problems, suffer from arthritis, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you are having radiotherapy you should avoid massaging the treated area. And don’t have massage to any area of your body where the skin is broken, bleeding or bruised. You should also avoid general massage therapy to your arms or legs if they are swollen because of lymphoedema. However, there is a particular type of massage used for lymphoedema called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD).
This is a very specialised treatment and people who need MLD are referred to a lymphoedema specialist by their doctor or specialist nurse. Some people worry that having a massage when you have cancer may make the cancer cells travel to other parts of the body. There is no research to support this concern. Several reviews of the scientific literature have attributed numerous positive effects to massage, including improvements in the quality of patients relaxation, sleep, and immune system responses and in the relief of their mood disturbance, fatigue, pain, anxiety, anger, depression, stress, and nausea resulting from chemotherapy treatments.
£40-60. Some clinics are able to offer an initial package of up to eight free/ low cost sessions. If, after these sessions, the clinic is unable to offer you more, they should be able to refer you to individual therapists or centres that offer this service.
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