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  • Writer's pictureMiechelle Hwang

When Is The Right Time For A Massage If You Are Undergoing Radiation Therapy Or Cancer Surgery?

It's easy to assume that bodywork should be postponed until radiation therapy or surgery recovery is complete. However, bodywork can be highly beneficial during this time of treatment. Cancer treatment is no longer the reason to forgo a massage that it was once thought to be, and the American Cancer Society approves it as a complementary therapy. Radiation therapy is usually given externally, and anyone receiving this treatment is a fine candidate for massage. The only time someone undergoing radiation therapy should not get a massage is if they are receiving a form of internal radiation that causes the body to become radioactive for a short period of time. During this radioactive period massage is contraindicated for the sake of the massage therapist. Otherwise, any time a patient wants a massage is an excellent time to have one!

Massage therapy can help with the side effects of radiation, which include swelling, dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and burns on the skin. An oncology massage therapist has techniques for alleviating nausea, dizziness, and fatigue, and has experience avoiding the affected site of a raw burn scar. Once the scar can safely receive touch, massage can help reduce swelling and help the scar tissue heal better than it would if left alone. The inflammation induced by radiotherapy can cause the treated tissue to become fibrotic, which can result in lymphedema or muscle adhesions. This requires adjustment when administering bodywork, but skilled touch can be extremely helpful in these cases.

Massage therapy can also help with recovery from cancer-related surgeries, which include but are not limited to biopsies, exploratory surgery, tumor and tissue removal, and reconstruction. Surgery leaves a scar, and often results in swelling. Massage is greatly beneficial for lowering swelling and helping scar tissue heal better, allowing the patient to regain full movement of the body sooner.

Massage is incredibly beneficial when it comes to pain management, and the relaxation of entering a meditative state of mind in a safe place can be wonderful for cancer survivors experiencing stress, anxiety, and fear during the time of treatment. Cancer is still a socially-ostracizing experience, and patients who are feeling alone and isolated due to their condition can greatly benefit simply by receiving touch.

Bear in mind that oncology massage therapists and regular massage therapists have very different approaches to massage. Some of the techniques that regular massage therapists use are contraindicated for people receiving cancer treatment, and also not recommended for long-term survivors. These contraindications are not always taught in standard massage therapy practice. Massage therapists need special awareness and training to fully understand how a massage can be both safe and beneficial while recovering from cancer. Make sure that if you are engaging a massage therapist and you have had cancer, your massage therapist has the training to address your wellness needs.

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