Thai massage techniques and benefits


Many cancer centers now offer massages as a complementary cancer treatment. In this sense, massage is not used as a treatment for cancer itself, for example chemotherapy or surgery, but as a method of alleviating cancer symptoms and treatment side effects. Research is still new, but massage therapy can help relieve pain, cancer-related fatigue, anxiety, and improve quality of life, and it also meets evidence-based guidelines to help relieve depression. and mood disorders in women with breast cancer. Massage may also play a role in preventing neuropathic pain associated with chemotherapy drugs such as taxol.

There are potential risks such as infection, bruising, and skin destruction, as well as reasons why it should not be done, such as having blood clots or a very low platelet count. Let's take a look at how massage can benefit people with cancer and how to find a massage oncologist therapist.

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Integrative oncology

The term "integrative treatment" refers to the practice of combining traditional cancer treatments to remove a tumor with "alternative" treatments to alleviate symptoms, an approach now used by many cancer centers.

Basics of massage therapy

Massage is defined as rubbing the skin and muscles of the body to give the person a feeling of well-being. Many of us are familiar with traditional back massage and massage therapy is no different, in the sense that many people love it. However, there are many different techniques and forms of massage therapy.

Massage techniques

The best type of massage and its possible benefits depend on the technique. Common forms include:

  • swedish massage
  • Aromatherapy massage
  • Classic massage
  • Myofascial massage
  • Anma therapy (japanese massage)
  • Deep tissue massage : This type of massage is not generally used during active cancer treatment, but can be used to relieve chronic pain and limited movement due to scar tissue after treatment is complete.

Using different techniques

The best type of massage can vary based on your symptoms and how cancer and cancer treatments have affected your body. Gentle massage is tolerated by most people with cancer, and it is enough to release "endorphins," the "feel-good" chemicals released by the brain that can relieve pain. Those with muscle tension and stiffness may require stronger massage techniques, such as Swedish massage.

Health benefits

Massage therapy may have general benefits for well-being, as well as specific benefits for general symptoms associated with cancer or its treatment.

General health benefits

Researchers believe that massage can have both physical and psychological benefits .

Physically, massage can:

  • Reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Improve blood circulation
  • Helps sore muscles
  • Reduce the level of stress hormones in the blood.

Emotionally, massage can help people relax, divert attention from pain and fear, and reduce anxiety and sometimes depression.

Benefits for people with cancer

Intuitively, it seems that massage should benefit cancer patients. Unlike often intense (and sometimes cold) treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, massage can create feelings of calm and serenity. Also, since most cancer treatments focus on treating the tumor, massage can help people feel pampered, as therapy involves a therapist dedicated to their personal, non-clinical well-being.

Several studies evaluating the potential benefits of massage therapy in oncology have focused on specific treatments. For example, a 2016 study looked at the benefits of massage for people undergoing chemotherapy and found that it reduced pain, fatigue, nausea, and anxiety.

Other studies have examined the benefits of massage for certain symptoms associated with cancer.

Nausea related to chemotherapy

Several studies have shown that massage therapy combined with other treatments can reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy . A 2015 study combining traditional and alternative cancer treatments found that a combination of dexamethasone, massage, and ginger for chemotherapy-induced nausea worked better than some other combinations of traditional and alternative therapies.

It is important to note that when massage therapy is used to treat nausea, it does not mean giving up the medications used to prevent and treat nausea, only that massage can be a useful addition to more traditional therapies. This is true for many of the cancer-related symptoms for which a combination of treatments is often most effective.

Anxiety and stress

Several studies have shown that massage therapy can reduce anxiety and stress in people living with cancer. On a more objective level, massage appears to lower cortisol levels, and this reduction in stress hormones possibly has other physical benefits. A reduction in stress and anxiety has been observed in several different studies.

Depression / mood disorders

Of all the symptoms that massage can help, the most compelling evidence is depression and mood disorders. Not only are depression and mood disorders common in women with breast cancer, but they can be difficult to treat because many antidepressants reduce the effectiveness of certain breast cancer medications (such as tamoxifen). Additionally, several studies have shown that depression is associated with lower survival rates in women with breast cancer.

Depression and lung cancer can go hand in hand, and recent research suggests that inflammation may be the cause of depression in these conditions.

Cancer fatigue

Massage has been found to reduce cancer fatigue in some people. Although fatigue is not a life-threatening symptom, it is one of the most bothersome and frustrating symptoms for people with cancer and often persists for many years after treatment is completed in people with early disease. .

A 2018 study published in the journal Cancer found that Swedish massage resulted in significant reductions in cancer-related fatigue in people with stage 0 to III breast cancer.


As with nausea and vomiting, massage should not be used as a substitute for traditional pain treatments, but it can help reduce pain or reduce the amount of pain relievers people may need. This can be especially helpful for postoperative pain. The mechanism is not fully understood, but massage has been found to increase endorphin release and, in turn, increased endorphins is associated with decreased pain.

A 2018 study found that massage can help relieve pain quickly, although how long it will last is unknown. Unlike many modern pain treatments, massage also appears to be relatively safe.

Myofascial massage is considered a promising treatment for chronic pain after cancer surgery and may also be helpful in improving mobility.

Prevention of neuropathic pain associated with chemotherapy.

Neuropathic pain is common in people taking the chemotherapy drug Taxol (paclitaxel) and is very difficult to treat. A 2019 study found that people who received a classic massage before a taxol infusion had less pain. This has also been objectively seen in nerve conduction studies.

Palliative care benefits

In a hospice setting, massage can also be helpful. A 2019 study found that massage therapy improves well-being, primarily by giving people a break from illness.

Quality of life

Several different studies have examined the benefits of anma (Japanese massage) therapy for women with gynecological cancer. A 2018 study found that Japanese massage significantly reduced physical symptoms and improved quality of life in this environment.

Precautions and risks

It is important to speak with your oncologist before starting a massage, especially if you have recently had surgery or are receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Like any type of treatment, massage therapy carries both potential risks and contraindications (reasons why therapy should not be performed).

Potential risks

Some potential risks include:

  • Infection: The risk of infection is higher if you have a low white blood cell count due to chemotherapy (chemotherapy-induced neutropenia ), if you have recently had surgery, or if you have open sores due to radiation therapy or other conditions.
  • Bruising: If you have a low platelet count due to chemotherapy (chemotherapy-induced thrombocytopenia ), you are more likely to bruise.
  • Fracture risk : If you have bone metastases (spread of cancer to the bones) or are taking medications that can weaken your bones (such as aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer), you may have an increased risk of fractures. Although bone metastases are sometimes referred to as a contraindication to massage, there is also some evidence that massage can reduce pain in people with bone metastases. In this setting, it is important to contact a certified massage therapist.
  • Skin Rupture: Rubbing, especially deep tissue massage, can lead to skin breakdown, especially during radiation therapy .
  • Reactions to lotions or oils – It is important to make sure your masseuse is aware of any allergies or sensitivities you may have.
  • Removing a blood clot: There is a potential risk of breaking an undiagnosed blood clot in the leg, which can be displaced and carried to the lungs. It should be noted that blood clots are common in people with cancer , especially after surgery or during chemotherapy. This is one of the reasons that anyone considering massage therapy should speak to their oncologist first.


Light massage is safe for most cancer patients, but there are some conditions in which massage therapy should be avoided entirely among cancer patients. Some of these include:

  • Known blood clots: People diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism should not be massaged.
  • Infection – If someone is fighting an infection, especially with a high fever, massage therapy should not be used.
  • Very low white blood cell count: In severe leukopenia, massage therapy should be delayed until the oncologist gives permission.
  • Severe thrombocytopenia – People with very low platelet levels should not have massage therapy.
  • Lymphedema: Lymphedema is a relative contraindication to massage. Swelling of a part of the body due to lymphatic vessel damage can occur in various types of cancer (especially melanoma), but is more commonly known as edema of the hand, which occurs in some women with breast cancer. If lymphedema is present, a type of massage called manual lymphatic drainage may be required, but it is usually performed by a different type of therapist who specializes in treating lymphedema.

Therapy should also avoid areas of active tumor growth, areas around a recent incision, and any areas where there is an open wound or ulcer. Deep tissue massage should be avoided during chemotherapy, even if blood counts are normal.

Spread of cancer

While there is a theoretical risk that massaging a cancerous tumor could promote its spread, this has not been found in any trials to date.

What to expect from cancer massage

Before starting a massage session, talk to your oncologist about any precautions or concerns you have. It is important to discuss all of this with your masseuse, as well as any concerns you have about lotions, oils, or aromatherapy (chemotherapy can affect your sense of smell and taste, and you may be more sensitive than usual) . Some therapists use aromatherapy with massage, and many play relaxing music.

You are usually asked to remove clothing other than underwear, but this can vary. You should never feel uncomfortable and, if you wish, you can massage your clothes.

Usually you are asked to lie on a soft table with a special opening for your face while you are lying on your stomach. Positioning can be limited or needs to be changed. For example, if you recently had breast cancer surgery, you will not be able to lie on your stomach or on your side.

During the massage, be sure to tell the therapist if something hurts or if you need a gentler touch. For the massage to be effective, it is not necessary to experience discomfort or pain, but on the contrary, it can be harmful. Most sessions last between 30 and 90 minutes, but you can ask the therapist to stop at any time.

When you get up after the massage, be careful when standing. Some people get very relaxed and feel dizzy when standing up. Give yourself time to get up and get dressed.

Where to start

If you are not sure how to find a massage oncologist, talk to your oncologist. Many of the major cancer centers have massage therapists on staff, and some also offer classes to help your loved ones learn how to massage for you when you get home.

If you need to find a cancer massage therapist outside of your cancer center, be sure to find a licensed therapist who specializes in working with people with cancer (there is special certification). You can search for hospitals that have massage oncology by state, or find individual massage oncologists through the Massage Cancer Society.

Other alternative treatments

There are a number of alternative therapies that have been incorporated into cancer treatment as a way to reduce cancer symptoms and treat cancer, and many cancer centers now practice an “ integrative approach '' in which they combine the best alternative therapies with traditional therapies. to improve the quality of life for people living with cancer. The guidelines have shown that therapies that appear to be particularly effective based on symptoms include:

  • Anxiety / stress reduction: music therapy , meditation , stress management, and yoga
  • Depression / Mood Disorders: meditation, relaxation, yoga , massage, and music therapy.
  • Nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy: acupressure and acupuncture
  • Improving quality of life: meditation and yoga

Get the word of drug information

It is only in the last few years that we have started looking for ways to help people live with cancer. Although alternative therapies have gotten a bad rap for using unproven cancer treatments, it's important not to flush your baby out of the bathtub. While traditional treatments ranging from surgery to immunotherapy are the mainstay of cancer treatment, many of these "alternative" treatments can be helpful in reducing pain or at least improving mood during treatment. Check out the options your cancer center offers. Even if massage therapy is not to your liking, there are many options that can give you the opportunity to improve your quality of life during treatment.

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