Massage is another nonpharmaceutical technique that uses hands-on touching to move the soft tissues of the body. There are different forms and levels of pressure and touch used in massage. It can be more of a superficial pressure on the skin or the pressure can go deep into the underlying muscle tissue.
Most massage includes the use of oils or lotions on your skin, so if you are especially sensitive to these, you need to tell your massage therapist. Also, if the pressure used is too hard and you are uncomfortable you need to tell your massage therapist.
The major benefit of massage is to relieve pain, anxiety, and fatigue. Massage also relaxes the muscles and has been known to stimulate the immune system. It is important to tell your massage therapist about your breast cancer treatment so that she can adapt the massage to your needs and avoid areas that may be sensitive. A typical massage can last anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes. There are shorter massage techniques, such as hand and foot massage that can be done during chemotherapy treatments. Some cancer centers offer these services to help relax and enhance a feeling of wellness.
When choosing a massage therapist, you should ask about her training, background, and if she has worked with cancer patients before. It is important to find out if the massage therapist is licensed or certified. There are state-by-state requirements for education and experience, so it is recommended that you check on the training and certification of the masseuse in the state in which she is practicing. The American Massage Therapy Association and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork are organizations that provide information about massage therapists in your area and their credentials. You can always ask your surgeon or oncologist for their recommendations.
Some basic guidelines when having massage therapy are to avoid deep massage during chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy already put extra strain on your body and massage should promote relaxation and comfort, not cause more pain and discomfort. Avoiding sensitive areas or using light touch massage post-surgery, especially if you have had total lymph node dissection or experience lymphedema, is important. Also, if you have markings on your chest and arms for radiation therapy, it is advisable to avoid oils and lotions on these areas.
Overall, massage therapy offers an alternative technique that has been found to promote relaxation, and decrease anxiety, pain, and depression. Physically, studies have actually shown an increase in the level of dopamine, which helps provide a feeling of well-being, after having massage therapy.