Massage is an ancient technique that involves manual manipulation of muscles and soft tissues of the body. It increases circulation and promotes relaxation. In addition, it has important emotional and psychological benefits as well. The various forms of massage that are commonly practiced are Swedish massage, Shiatsu, Reflexology, and Tuina. Swedish massage is the most common and consists of five basic strokes and their variations. Reflexology involves massaging specific areas (reflex points) on the hands or feet that are believed to correspond to particular regions in the body. Shiatsu and Tuina are techniques that originated in Japan and China, and involve stimulation of acupuncture points and meridians to ensure proper flow of energy and blood to facilitate healing.
Clinical studies show that massage can alleviate symptoms such as stress/anxiety, nausea, insomnia, pain, fatigue, and depression (1) (3) (7) (8) (9) (12) in cancer patients, and reduce psychological and neurological complications associated with bone marrow transplantation (2). Reflexology (foot massage) was found to alleviate pain and nausea (4), and to reduce anxiety in cancer patients (14) (15) (16). It also reduced symptoms of dyspnea and fatigue in advanced-stage breast cancer patients (13). Preliminary data indicate that post-operative arm massage can decrease pain and discomfort after lymph node dissection (5). Manual lymphatic drainage or MLD, which involves specialized light rhythmic massage, reduced lymphedema (6) and prevented secondary lymphedema (10) in breast cancer patients. But further research is needed. Massage therapy is effective in treating chronic back pain (11).
Massage is generally safe and being increasingly used as a complementary therapy to provide relief from certain symptoms of cancer and other illnesses. However, patients suffering from cancer, heart disease or arthritis should consult a qualified massage therapist for treatment.