What we will cover in this article
- What is Oncology Massage?
- How is Oncology Massage different from other types of Massages?
- 5 Types of People who need an Oncology Massage
- How Can Oncology Massage of the Carolinas Help me?
What is Oncology Massage?
Oncology Massage is a massage given by a licensed massage therapist who is trained to adapt the massage for the client who has a history of cancer. It is not a specific type of massage, but rather, a set of decisions made by you, the client, and your massage therapist to modify the massage to your current needs. An Oncology Massage is appropriate for the newly diagnosed; those in treatment (chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy, etc,); survivors; and people at the end of life.
How is an Oncology Massage different from other types of massages?
The primary difference between oncology massage and other massage therapy is the training the therapist has to modify the massage to your needs.
Oncology massage vs lymphatic massage/manual lymph drainage: The risk of developing lymphedema can be mild or fairly high for someone who has had lymph nodes removed or radiated as part of cancer treatment–most frequently breast cancer, ovarian cancer, head and neck cancers, and some of the colorectal cancers. Manual Lymph Drainage, or lymphatic massage, is designed to assist the client with reducing the swelling and rerouting the lymph . Oncology massage therapists are educated to understand when a client is at risk for developing lymphedema, and to modify the massage so that they will not trigger the lymphedema. They will provide a very light massage to the affected area in the body that is at risk, but not with the intention of moving the lymph. It is a safe, gentile, and preventive massage.
Deep Tissue Massage: While many clients who have received massages prior to receiving a cancer diagnosis, they are not used to the rigors and trauma of treatment or some of the side effects after treatment. During treatment, and often due to side effects after treatment, deep tissue massage is not appropriate. The deep massage may feel wonderful at the time, but while the client is in treatment, it can cause the immune system to work not only to help defeat the cancer, but also to repair the tiny microtears to the muscles from the deep massage. The immune system becomes overwhelmed. Some clients have reported feeling as if they have the flu after receiving a deep massage while in treatment. The general guideline for the therapist is to start gently, and “inch forward” with the pressure. Many clients find after a few sessions that they actually prefer the slower, gentler massage provided by the oncology massage therapist. They also find it does an excellent job at reducing pain and anxiety, so that the depth is not necessary for an enjoyable and effective experience.
Restorative Massage: This is a term used by the owner of Oncology Massage of the Carolinas to describe the overall experience of an oncology massage. The goal is to help the client to reduce pain, anxiety, nausea, depression, and other side effects of diagnosis and treatment, so that they may heal themselves. Some clients have described the massage as healing. However, because there is a difference between healing and curing but the two terms are often used interchangeably, we do not wish to claim that we can cure anyone. Therefore, the term “restorative” massage was used instead.
Hot Stone Massage? — Hot stone massage is not recommended for anyone currently in treatment, or for anyone who has had lymph nodes surgically removed, affected by radiation, or biopsied. The reason to avoid hot stones while in treatment is the same as for deep tissue; it may place too much strain on the immune system. The reason not to use hot stones if you have had lymph nodes removed is that heat can be a trigger for lymphedema, and the massage therapist, like other medical professionals, has the intent to do no harm.
5 Types of People Who Need an Oncology Massage.
1. Diagnosis of Cancer
The body is changing in response to the cancer. An oncology massage therapist can advise and immediately adapt your massage to your new condition. One example may be having a metal marker under your skin indicated where a biopsy was taken. Additional cushioning may be needed for the massage.
2. Treatment for Cancer
Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and even immunotherapy frequently result in side effects for the patient. Oncology massage therapists are trained to safely massage after surgery, and during and after other treatments. You may receive a lighter touch massage while immunocompromised, or certain areas avoided, such as radiation burns. Most massage therapists are not knowledgeable about the adaptations needed for people while they are in treatment. Learn More About Massages for Cancer Patients
3. Cancer Survivor
Wonderful! Out of treatment for a few months or a few years, but there may be lingering side effects of treatment, such as risk of lymphedema, neuropathy, scarring, bone fragility, or other changes that occurred either from the cancer or the treatment. The oncology massage therapist is familiar with the short- and long-term side effects, and will adapt your massage accordingly.
4. Hospice/End of Life/Palliative Care
The need for touch is life-long, and a gentle, loving massage, or even just gentle holds and being present, is often a comfort at the end of life. Oncology massage therapists often stay with their clients, transferring care from the massage office to the client’s home to provide comfort care. Learn more about Hospice/End of Life/Palliative Care
While this group does not necessarily need the specialized massage skills of an oncology massage therapist, they may wish to use the same person for their own care, as that therapist will have a greater understanding of, and compassion for their role as caregivers.
So in review:
anyone who has ever had a diagnosis and treatment for cancer would benefit from consulting with a massage therapist trained in oncology massage before going to/or going back to your regular massage therapist. Oncology massage is a regular massage that is modified for any immediate, short term or long term side effects of cancer treatment. It usually feels more relaxing and restorative than a deep tissue massage. The oncology massage therapist has a body of knowledge about cancer, cancer treatments, side effects and how to modify the massage using critical thinking skills. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns!
How Can Oncology Massage of the Carolinas Help Me?
At Oncology Massage of the Carolinas, our key values are compassion, knowledge, and experience. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, your life has already been changed. We use our knowledge about cancer, cancer treatment, and side effects, along with your preferences and needs, to create a truly personalized massage for you each and every time you come in, or we come to you, for a massage. We are not here to cure your cancer, but large-scale studies, plus personal stories have proven that massage can help reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and nausea, and can help you sleep better. When we reduce the ugly side effects of treatment, you can focus more on your own healing. If you are a survivor, you can be assured that your therapist will know enough about long-term side effects to ensure we do not cause further damage to your body, but will always adapt the massage to help you heal yourself and to do no harm.