Massage as a treatment for helping reduce pain from cancer

Posted by The CareSync Team

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Jul 18, 2014 11:00:00 AM


We all know that massage has been proven to reduce stress and help make us feel better. When it's applied to people with certain medical conditions, the benefits open up a vast world of possibilities. While the medical community still bickers over the real benefits, there isn't any greater aspect to massage than when it can reduce pain in patients who have cancer.

In honor of "everybody deserves a massage week," we're taking a deeper look into the benefits of massage as a treatment for cancer patients.

Caregivers who have to help in the end stage of the disease sometimes have to watch their loved ones suffer from pain without being able to do anything about it other than give pain medications.

Should cancer patients have massage as a treatment? Plenty of medical evidence is out there that proves how massage has been used as an effective treatment to help patients relieve pain to amazing levels. However, there seems to be some conflicting evidence on whether it's just a placebo effect. Even if it is, the fact that it's brought temporary relief to the pain for many patients makes it worth considering.

Out of the scientific studies done, what kind of massage seems to work the best in relieving the most pain?

Swedish Massage

The National Institutes of Health looked at some studies and found that different variations of Swedish Massage have helped patients considerably. NIH cites studies from the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York City that tried a few massage techniques on a large number of patients. They found that Swedish massage was one of the most effective of all. Part of this came in the smooth gliding movements over the body for a more relaxed effect. It's there where the mind-body connection comes into play and where science still can't explain how it releases endorphins.

This isn't to say the kneading technique of muscles around the body doesn't also have benefits. Using more stimulatory massage on the muscles helps loosen tightness and also increases circulation. Much of this comes in the philosophy behind acupuncture, where helping to stimulate muscles in the body helps blood flow easier to repair internal problems, like pain. Sometimes this involves a technique called tapotement that involves rapidly striking muscles to help remove tension.

Light Touch Massage Technique

Using a lighter touch brings up the endorphin issue again and how the release of those endorphins can help bring a relaxed feeling. While the National Institutes of Health note that the experiences of being pain-free couldn't be complete or permanent, anxiety from pain was reduced by 43% after most of the massage techniques were done.

Light massage falls generally under techniques like craniosacral therapy that uses gentle massage around the spine. Lymphatic drainage is another light massage technique that helps in the reduction of edema frequently caused by cancer.

Foot massage was also tried using the light touch method, though the NIH said it was the weakest link of the three massage techniques tried. One reason seems to be because the feet aren't central as you'd get with massage around the back and head.

Warnings for Doing Massage on Cancer Patients

All caregivers who apply these massage technique on end-stage patients should be aware that dangers exist. Just like with pregnant women, certain massages can aggravate problems. Coagulation issues may be worsened in massages that exert more physical pressure, as well as bone tissue due to metastasized cancer.

Also, open wounds from treatments, or certain medications can cause symptoms that could potentially be dangerous. Consulting with the patient's oncologist is going to be mandatory so there's complete knowledge of what the best massage approach is.

As with any alternative treatment, we strongly recommend that you get your loved one's providers to give you the green light.

To learn more about CareSync, and the unique ways we help make your caregiver duties a little less stressful, click here, or give us a call at 800-587-5227.

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