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  • Writer's pictureMiechelle Hwang

When is the Right Time for a Massage During Chemotherapy?

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

Massage can be received at any point during and after chemotherapy

Only 2 exceptions exist: if you are receiving Iodine-131 or if you do not feel like getting a massage. Iodine-131 is a radioactive chemotherapy often given for Thyroid cancer, read more here. It is often administrated in hospital and you are asked to stay for 2 days, where minimal contact with family members are advised, until the half-life for the Iodine is considered safe levels again. during this time Massage is not advised,

So you can see only very few circumstances prevent you from receiving massage when you are receiving chemo. continue to read, for more information.

As an oncology massage therapist, I am often asked--when is the best time to get a massage when undergoing chemo? And what kind of massage should I have?

The answer is, it depends on personal preference and response to treatment. Some people choose to get a massage on the same day or the day after infusion, because the steroids in the treatment keep them awake and they cannot relax. Some prefer to have a massage 2-3 days after treatment when the steroid boost is gone, because this is when they start to feel pain or nausea. Massage can also be used to ease the stress and anxiety of getting the chemo treatment itself, in which case I recommend getting your massage the day before your chemo session, or on the morning of an afternoon infusion.

The most common places to get a massage during chemotherapy are the hands, feet, scalp, and shoulders. A simple relaxing massage in these locations can help soothe anxiety, reduce swelling, decrease fatigue, and improve mood and mental clarity.

I Work for Dignity Health in Sacramento and provide Hand and Foot massages at Mercy San Juan and Mercy C street 4 days a week.

If you are experiencing digestive problems, such as lack of appetite or nausea, you should get a massage that eases low back pain, calms the abdomen, and relaxes the muscles in your neck. Have a conversation with your oncology-trained massage therapist about your goals and current eating habits, and they will adapt their techniques to accommodate your needs. Abdomen sessions will benefit any person undergoing chemo who has low energy due to lack of food intake.

Massage can also help if your primary concern is the effect chemo has on your immune system. Massage aids circulation and thus the flow of white blood cells. Some studies even show that massage is linked to the enhanced presence of certain types of white blood cells, and the decrease of molecules that cause inflammation. Immune-system-boosting massages should be done 1-3 days before a chemotherapy session.

There is a growing body of research that indicates massage is beneficial to patients experiencing neuropathy (see previous post). Patients can get a neuropathy-focused massage at any point during the chemo cycle.

Bone pain and general pain are common side effects of chemotherapy and cancer. Light touch massage is beneficial in these cases. Deep tissue massage is never recommended for people undergoing cancer treatment or in recent recovery phase (2-5 years after treatment ended), as bone structure is compromised and fragile and many other contraindications are present. However Light touch and slow joint movements can be very beneficial and yield great results.

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