Physical therapies. Massage

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1 This information is an extract from the booklet, Understanding complementary therapies. You may find the full booklet helpful. We can send you a copy free see page 6. This information discusses eight physical therapies; massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, acupuncture, shiatsu, tai chi, qigong and yoga. These therapies are available to patients in some cancer hospitals for relieving symptoms and reducing anxiety. It is important that if you have these therapies outside the hospital, you always make sure the therapist or practitioner is trained and registered. Massage Massage is one of the oldest therapies in existence. It is now often offered as part of cancer care in hospital wards, hospices and some GP surgeries. Massage is a form of structured or therapeutic touch which can be used to relax, to relieve muscle pain and tension, and to bring comfort through contact with another human being. There are many different types of massage therapy. Some types are soft and gentle; other types are more vigorous and possibly uncomfortable. People with cancer who want to try massage are generally advised to try gentle massage and avoid vigorous deep tissue massage. It is important that the massage therapist avoids any area affected by the cancer. Macmillan and Cancerbackup have merged. Together we provide free, high quality information for all. Page 1 of 6

2 Gentle massage can often help to lift your mood and enhance your well being. It may also help some people to sleep better. There have been concerns that massage could cause cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body, but research so far has not proven this. Massage therapists working with cancer patients should be properly trained and qualified, with knowledge of cancer and its treatments. Relatives or friends can sometimes be taught to massage the person who is ill, which can reduce anxiety and bring comfort to both people. Massage can be a form of communication between the massager and the person with cancer, as well as relieving pain and muscle tension. As long as you are careful to avoid wounds or scars, vein thromboses (blood clots) and areas of tenderness (and to be particularly gentle if the cancer has spread to the bones), massage for people with cancer is very relaxing. You can get more information about massage and finding a trained massage therapist from the General Council for Massage Therapy. Aromatherapy Aromatherapy is the use of natural oils extracted from flowers, plants or trees. The oils are thought to have therapeutic properties. They may be used during massage, but can also be used in special aromatherapy diffusers. Different oils are believed to have different effects. For example, an aromatherapist may use cedarwood for a pleasant and relaxing effect, or rosemary for an invigorating and refreshing effect. Some oils can have physical effects on the body, such as raising blood pressure. So it is important to tell the therapist about any medicines you take and give them all your medical details. If you are having conventional therapy for cancer, like chemotherapy, you should always check with your doctor before beginning aromatherapy treatment. It is not always necessary to remove clothing to have massage or aromatherapy. Often hand and forearm massage or head and neck massage can be very relaxing. Page 2 of 6

3 For more detailed information about aromatherapy and to find a trained therapist, contact the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists. They have guidelines for aromatherapists working with people who have cancer. You could also contact the International Federation of Aromatherapists or the Aromatherapy Council. Acupuncture Acupuncture comes from traditional Chinese medicine which includes the theory that there is a system of life force (energy) channels. The energy that s believed to move along the channels is known as chi. Accupunture uses thin, sterile acupuncture needles inserted just below the skin to affect the flow of energy (chi) in the body. The needles are placed along points in the energy channels to help release the flow of chi and restore health and balance in the body. Acupuncture may help with physical problems such as pain and nausea (feeling sick) and may also help to reduce fear and anxiety. Acupuncture is sometimes used to treat side effects of cancer treatment such as nausea (feeling sick). Seabands (acubands) which work on a similar principle, by applying pressure to a specific area of the wrist, may also be helpful. Some studies suggest it might also help with a dry mouth caused by radiotherapy (also called xerostomia) and help with hot flushes and sweats in men receiving hormonal therapy for prostate cancer. A professional acupuncturist may be a member of a team working in a pain clinic or part of a palliative care team. Some doctors are trained in acupuncture. Studies show that during acupuncture, the body releases endorphins natural chemicals which can relieve pain, relax muscles and increase feelings of well being. It may help to reduce hot flushes caused by cancer treatment for some women with breast cancer as well as men with prostate cancer. People who have a low blood count (or are having treatment such as chemotherapy that could affect their blood count) are not recommended to have acupuncture. It may not be Page 3 of 6

4 suitable for people with lymphoedema. Remember to always check with your doctors if you are considering trying a complementary therapy. Reflexology Reflexology is a specialised form of foot or hand massage that is related to the Chinese practice of acupressure. The theory underlying this therapy is that different areas on the sole of the foot or palm of the hand represent, and are connected to, the body s internal organs. Systematically putting pressure on points in the feet or hands is thought to stimulate the flow of energy along channels in the body. Many people report that reflexology can relieve nausea and help reduce tension and pain. It may be able to help with some symptoms of advanced cancer and to improve energy levels. It can also be very relaxing, and ease stress and anxiety. You can get more information about reflexology and finding a registered practitioner from the Association of Reflexologists or the British Reflexology Association. Shiatsu Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage. Like acupuncture, it is based on the idea that good health depends on the balanced flow of energy through specific channels (meridians) in the body. Pressure is placed on the appropriate meridians to help the person s energy regain its balance. The therapist may also gently stretch or hold areas of the body to reduce stiffness and soreness. Many people find shiatsu relaxing and re-energising, and that it eases pain and other symptoms. You can get more information about shiatsu and finding a registered practitioner from The Shiatsu Society. Tai chi and Qigong Tai chi and qigong (sometimes spelled Chi Kung) are two forms of gentle movements and exercises which come from Chinese medical traditions to balance the energy or the vital force (chi) of the body. Page 4 of 6

5 Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that focuses on building strength, balance and flexibility through slow, fluid movements combined with mental imagery and deep breathing. It can improve people s general health. Qigong is another Chinese exercise system. Through individual mental and physical exercises, practitioners build up their health and prevent illness by combining discipline of mind, body and the body s chi (vital force). Both Tai chi and qigong can help generate a sense of well being and peace and can reduce pain. The slow flowing movements increase strength and flexibility and improve balance and circulation. They may also relieve some of the side effects of cancer treatment. You can get more information about Tai Chi or Qigong and local classes from: and Yoga There are many different schools and styles of yoga. They all encourage balanced and holistic development through slow gentle movements, putting the body into different positions or postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and some form of meditation or relaxation techniques. Some types of yoga involve very gentle stretching, movement and meditation. Other types of yoga may involve more vigorous physical movement and dietary changes. Yoga is generally safe, but people with some types of cancer may find it difficult to get into some of the positions suggested. There are no claims that yoga can treat or cure cancer, but many people feel that practising yoga improves their quality of life. Some people who have cancer find it can help to them cope with their illness and make them feel generally better. Some hospitals offer yoga as part of their complementary therapy programmes. You can also get information about local classes from the British Wheel of Yoga. Page 5 of 6

6 More information and support If you have any questions about cancer, ask Macmillan. If you need support, ask Macmillan. Or if you just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan. Our cancer support specialists are here for everyone living with cancer, whatever you need. Call free on , Monday Friday, 9am 8pm We make every effort to ensure that the information we provide is accurate but it should not be relied upon to reflect the current state of medical research, which is constantly changing. If you are concerned about your health, you should consult your doctor. Macmillan cannot accept liability for any loss or damage resulting from any inaccuracy in this information or third party information such as information on websites to which we link. Macmillan Cancer Support Registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). Registered office 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UQ Page 6 of 6

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