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Is Massage Contraindicated for Cancer Patients?

September 1, 2010

Historically, cancer has been viewed as a contraindication to massage. Many research studies are being done to determine the effects of massage on cancer patients. Multiple studies now link gentle, non-invasive massage for cancer patients with significant reductions in pain, fatigue, nausea, depression and anxiety. 

Suitable massage strokes to use with cancer patients are systemic reflex stokes that increase endorphins and enkephalins and balance neuro-endocrine secretions. These include rocking, shaking, gentle friction at the muscle tendon junctures and effleurage. Massage is usually best given before a chemotherapy treatment, although this may vary from patient to patient. The side effects and adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiation are numerous, all which should be of concern to massage therapists. Massage can be an important adjunct in treatment, but must be approached with care and with knowledge.  

The therapist, the patient, and the patient’s physician need to feel comfortable going ahead with massage therapy during cancer treatment. The complexity of drug regimens for cancer patients requires a close working relationship with the patient’s physician. The interactions of the medications, how quickly they are excreted from the body, how often they are given, which other medications are being used to prevent side effects and the patient’s changes in condition all need to be discussed with the a physician. Any surgical sites are contraindicated for massage until full healing of the incision has been achieved.    

So, is massage contraindicated for clients with cancer? The answer is, not necessarily. It is a caution which requires working with a physician, but the benefits of massage for cancer patients can well outweigh the cautions.

We have a course titled Cancer and Massage Therapy which expands on this topic and educates therapists on how to approach massage and bodywork on cancer patients. Click here to view the details!

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