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  • Writer's pictureMiechelle Hwang

Oncology Massage: Massage and Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a term that encompasses a range of health problems involving damage to the nerves. It frequently causes sensations like numbness, tingling, burning, increased sensitivity, weakness, and pain, particularly in the extremities. Neuropathy is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, either from the pressure of tumors on nerves, or by the neurotoxicity of the substances used in chemotherapy.

Symptoms of neuropathic pain vary greatly among patients, and there is currently no drug available to treat neuropathy associated with cancer. Therefore, therapies complementary to mainstream cancer care are used to manage neuropathic pain—therapies such as massage, acupuncture, fitness, and mind-body techniques. Complementary treatments are noninvasive, safe, and inexpensive ways to treat symptoms alongside mainstream care, and are not intended to take the place of treatments recommended by a medical doctor.

Do these complementary treatments work? In one study, it was found that aromatherapy massage significantly decreased neuropathic pain and increased quality of life. Another study assessed how well reflexology and acupuncture alleviated neuropathic pain; in over 90% of the study's subjects, the combined treatment eliminated the neuropathic pain completely.

Massage therapy is known to reduce pain, anxiety, nausea, and fatigue. Because of this, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends massage therapy for pain management in its treatment guidelines for cancer pain in cases where pain medication is ineffective. At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, massage therapy has been used during cancer treatment since 1999. A study done at that center noted a 50% drop in symptoms such as fatigue, stress, nausea, and depression following the application of massage therapy, and the drop in symptoms was noted to last for 48 hours. According to one article, “Massage therapy... is based on a reciprocal relationship in every human being between the body and the mind. Calming the body automatically calms the mind; calming the mind causes the body to relax.” This increase in relaxation relieves the physical distress of patients and improves their quality of life.

All cancer patients can benefit from massage therapy, and oncology massage therapists know about the special needs and requirements of patients with neuropathy. Massage Therapist Miechelle notes, “The type of massage we do in the infusion center is closely related to reflexology, as we stimulate the same areas and sensory zones on hands and feet as reflexology does.” Oncology massage is designed not to be deep and painful, but to relax and sooth the patient who is experiencing neuropathic pain.

Massage is an excellent treatment complementary to mainstream cancer care—it is cheap, safe, absent of side effects, and easy to integrate into a clinic. Studies show its effectiveness on neuropathy and other symptoms, and more studies are currently underway. For neuropathic pain, a problem that does not currently have a pharmacological solution, massage therapy is an excellent and proven remedy.

The Gift of Love

Massage has a powerful and measurable effect on human biochemistry. According to one scientific paper which used data from a number of studies, following massage, subjects had about a 30% decrease in the body's amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) and about a 30% increase in the body's levels of serotonin and dopamine (the happiness hormones). That means that the effects of a massage are not just “in your head”—massages are actually, physically changing the chemical processes in the body.

Massage is known to positively affect a person's emotional state and mental health—in addition to affecting body chemistry, massage alleviates anxiety and promotes calmness. Even simple human touch promotes a feeling of connection and meditativeness. Mental and emotional well-being are an excellent foundation for stability and love in a romantic partnership, and massage can enhance and support that sense of well-being. So giving your loved one a massage can do more than make them feel good in the moment—it can actually positively affect the health of your partnership.

Getting a massage is a healthy choice for your body, to relax the muscles from the stresses of everyday

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