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How oncology massage differs from other massage

By Amy Tyler
from Amy Tyler Therapeutic Massage

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, just the diagnosis alone can send them into a state of anxiety, grief or fear. Add the pressures that come with regional treatments (surgery or radiation therapy) or systemic treatments (chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy) and the body undergoes changes that can be life long.  Research is showing that massage may offer great results with anxiety, depression, pain, nausea and fatigue, as well as helping achieve improved range of motion in restricted areas, sleep and a sense of wellbeing. However, massage needs to be appropriately adapted to make sure no harm is done to a body that is already undergoing extensive medical treatment or suffering long lasting side effects.

Regular remedial massage is often too deep and vigorous even long term post treatment.  You may be someone who enjoyed regular massage prior to your diagnosis, however finding a therapist who is qualified in oncology massage will benefit you greatly now that a diagnosis has occurred. Bone density loss, platelet count, lymph node biopsy/removal/radiation and fatigue levels are just some of the things a massage therapist should be asking you about prior to determining your treatment. Nerve sensitivity or chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy could be flared up if too much massage is received to an area. A qualified therapist will also ask you about any bowel aggravation caused by chemotherapy, pain meds, scars or reduced mobility. Not a conversation you might usually have with your massage therapist, however one you will benefit from once you experience an abdominal massage.

Often times, massage is seen as just a luxury. Patients wonder why we need to gather so much information about their medical history. When massage is appropriately applied, the benefits are great. However, a body undergoing or having undergone extensive medical intervention can be overloaded with massage and end up feeling worse.  Oncology massage is not a one size fits all prescription.  Each and every treatment will be modified for the patient dependant on where they are in treatment and the side effects they are currently feeling. Positioning on the massage table may also be modified due to surgical sites, lymphoedema, pain, nausea and medical devices such as ports, catheters or stomas.

Oncology Massage and Lymphatic Drainage are not the same.  You may find that an oncology massage therapist is also trained as a lymphedema therapist however these two treatments are very different. An oncology massage therapist is trained to deliver a safe massage to someone whose lymphatic system is under additional pressure due to lymph node biopsy, removal or radiation therapy.  They make sure that pressure and direction of massage techniques do not overload an already compromised system.

 Many oncology massage therapists are also trained to work with scar tissue. Scars can be restrictive not only to local muscles and joints but can also create a pull through fascia that creates issues further afield. Scars can be tender or even painful and sometimes it is the look of a scar that creates an emotional trauma.  All of this can be a negative impact on patients long-term quality of life. An oncology massage may involve work on the scar to improve range of motion, reduce pain, improve the look of the scar and help patients get back to doing daily tasks and hobbies with greater ease.

More about the author

Amy Tyler
Amy Tyler
– Amy Tyler Therapeutic Massage

Amy Tyler is a remedial massage therapist who specialises in working with people who have had a cancer diagnosis. She creates connection for the mind and body through integrating Oncology, Scar and Lymphoedema Massage to bring completely new levels of freedom and confidence to a patient's life. With 20+ years experience and training, she has become known in the industry for her unique skill set and has trained many other therapists to specialise in oncology massage. She runs her private clinic in Waitara in the north of Sydney, is a Natural Medicine Week Ambassador and was awarded the ATMS Natural Medicine Awards “Practitioner of the Year 2020”. Amy is also the founder and CEO of Institute of Oncology Massage, a boutique training organisation that empowers Remedial Massage Therapists and Myotherapists to confidently and competently adapt their skills when working with anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis.