The idea that touch can heal is an old one. Massage can be used to improve body posture and functioning. It is used for muscle and bone discomfort, improvement of circulation, reduction in swelling, improvement of lymphatic drainage, relaxation, and pain control. It can relieve headaches, backaches, stiffness and insomnia. It can be used as a complement to other medical treatments or just as a stress reducer and a “feel good” therapy.
What does massage therapy involve?
Massage therapy involves touch and different techniques of stroking or kneading the muscles of the body. It can involve only part of the body or a full body massage. Massage may be done through one’s clothing or on the exposed skin. Several different types of massage have developed over time in different cultures. These include Swedish massage (most common in the U.S.), Oriental massage, shiatsu and Thai massage. Massages usually occur in a warm, comfortable room and last about one hour. It can be done in specialized chairs or on a table. As muscles are rubbed, blood vessels dilate, blood flow increases, lymph circulation is stimulated, oxygen supply increases and overall circulation throughout the body improves. Therapeutic massage therapy should only be done by a licensed massage therapist.
What has been proven?
Studies have shown massage to reduce headaches, boost the immune system, lower anxiety and stress. Human touch can stimulate the brain to produce endorphins, the natural pain suppressors of the body. Massage can increase lymph flow and circulation. The manipulations or kneading action of massage can directly benefit muscle tissue function. Studies have shown that massage can relieve and manage chronic and acute pain and contribute to improved confidence, the relaxation response and a sense of well being.
Special points to remember
- It is important to consult with your physician prior to beginning massage therapy.
- Patients with lymph and/or bone disease and/or low blood counts should always consult with their physicians prior to beginning massage therapy.
- It is important not to massage areas that are being treated with radiation because the skin is very delicate.
- It is also important not to massage open wounds or sores, or areas that are healing, sensitive areas for it can increase the pain, or an area of a tumor, or that which has bone metastasis. Massage does not replace your pain medicine. It works with your pain medication to help you get better pain relief.
Directions for at home hand, foot, body massage
- The most common area for a massage is the back and shoulders, but if this is too uncomfortable, a foot or hand rub maybe as relaxing. Choose the area you think will be best for the massage.
- Remove clothing from the area to be massaged.
- Both the patient and the person giving the massage should be in comfortable positions.
- For warmth and privacy, cover the parts of the body not being massaged. Use powder or lotion, whichever you prefer, to keep the movement slippery. Friction caused by rubbing the skin without lotion can cause more irritation and discomfort. If lotion is used, warm it first by placing it in the microwave for a few seconds or by placing the bottle in a pan of warm water. Test the lotion first before placing it on the skin.
- Choose a time that is right for you. Have a massage before your pain becomes severe or when you are tired or start to get anxious. Set aside a time each day to receive a massage.
- The length of time for the massage depends on the individual. A few minutes may be all that is necessary to get results.
- Use long, firm strokes in the area being massaged. Start from the part of the body that is the greatest distance away from the center and work toward your head. In this way, blood flow is increased. If the hands and feet are massaged, rub each finger and toe separately.
- It is important to tell the person giving the massage what feels the best. Are softer or firmer strokes more relaxing?
- Massage is a time to relax. Just concentrate on how it feels and avoid talking. Try to control noise in the area.
- To help relax, some people like to have their favorite music playing while they receive a massage.
- Keep a written record of the massage and how it works in a journal or a pain management log.
By making this information available, neither the Patient Family Education Council nor Dana-Farber Cancer Institute makes any recommendations, promises, or guarantees the effectiveness of this complementary therapy. For any serious condition please contact your doctor before trying any new therapy. If you do decide to try this modality of therapy, please inform your doctor or nurse so all practitioners can work together to help you in the healing process.