Massage therapy and energy-based therapies

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1 Massage therapy and energy-based therapies This information is an extract from the booklet Complementary therapies and cancer. You may find the full booklet helpful. We can send you a copy free see page 6. Contents Massage therapy Energy-based therapies Massage therapy Massage is one of the oldest therapies in existence. It s now often offered as part of cancer care in hospital wards, hospices, community health services and in some GP surgeries. Massage is a form of structured or therapeutic touch. It can be used to relax the mind and body, promote sleep, relieve tension, improve the flow of blood and lymph (fluid in the lymphatic system), reduce blood pressure and enhance mood. One large observational study of people with cancer suggested that massage therapy reduced symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, depression and fatigue. 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. Some people worry that massage could cause cancer cells to spread to other parts of their body, but research has not found any evidence of this. Macmillan and Cancerbackup have merged. Together we provide free, high quality information for all. Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 1 of 6

2 Massage therapists working with people with cancer should be properly trained and qualified, with knowledge of cancer and its treatments. Relatives or friends are sometimes taught how to do basic massage, so that they can support the person with cancer. During massage it s important not to apply deep or intense pressure: near any area affected by cancer to areas of tenderness to areas being treated with radiotherapy (during and for a few weeks after the treatment) around intravenous catheters (such as central lines) to areas affected by blood clots. It s also important to be particularly gentle if the cancer has spread to the bones. If you have a tendency to bleed or bruise easily, check with your doctor before having massage therapy. You can get more information about massage therapy and finding a trained massage therapist from the General Council for Massage. Contact them on or visit their website gcmt.org.uk for more information. Energy-based therapies This section discusses the following energy-based therapies: acupuncture reflexology Shiatsu healing Reiki. Energy-based therapies are based on the theory that everyone has or is surrounded by a special energy, and that working on this can have health benefits. Some energy-based therapies rely on little, if any, physical contact for their effects; others involve touch or body movements. Page 2 of 6 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan

3 Energy-based therapies are available in some hospitals. The benefits of these therapies vary from person to person and how they may work isn t fully understood. They don t have any anti-cancer effects but may be used to relieve symptoms or reduce anxiety. Their most common effects are relaxation and calming. If you practise these therapies somewhere other than hospital, it s important to check that the therapist or practitioner is trained and registered. Acupuncture Acupuncture has its origins in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It s based on the theory that there s a system of life force (energy) channels in the body. The energy that s believed to move along the channels is known as chi. The therapist inserts fine sterile needles just below the skin to affect the flow of energy in the body. They place the needles along points in the energy channels to help release the flow of chi and restore health and balance in the body. Acupuncture is widely available within the NHS. A professional acupuncturist may be a member of a team working in a pain clinic or part of a palliative care (symptom control) team. Some doctors, nurses and physiotherapists are trained in acupuncture. They usually practise western medical acupuncture, which is based on current medical knowledge and evidence-based medicine. People who practise western medical acupuncture believe that it works by stimulating the nervous system rather than by affecting the circulation of chi. Acupuncture has been proven to be helpful in treating nausea after surgery or chemotherapy. Seabands (acubands), which work on a similar principle to acupuncture by applying pressure to a point on the wrist, may also be helpful in treating nausea. There s some evidence that acupuncture may be helpful in treating other problems, including pain, breathlessness and a dry mouth. Acupuncture is also sometimes used to treat menopausal symptoms, but it s not yet clear how effective it is for this. In general, when carried out by a trained professional, acupuncture is safe and side effects or complications are rare. Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 3 of 6

4 However, it s not advisable to have acupuncture if you: have a lower than normal number of white blood cells or platelets in your blood are having treatment that could affect your blood cell numbers have a tendency to bleed easily. If you have or are at risk of lymphoedema (swelling to a part of the body caused by damage to the lymphatic system) acupuncture may not be suitable for you, particularly in the limb that s affected or at risk. Check with your doctor if you re considering acupuncture. Reflexology Reflexology is a form of foot or hand massage and is related to the Chinese practice of acupressure. Reflexologists believe that different areas on the feet or hands represent, and are connected to, the body s internal organs. Applying pressure to specific points in the feet or hands is thought to stimulate the flow of energy along channels in the body. Reflexology may be used to try to improve various symptoms related to cancer, including feeling sick (nausea), tension, pain and fatigue. So far, research studies haven t been able to prove that it s effective when used in this way. But, there s good evidence that reflexology can help people feel more relaxed and many people use it to help ease stress and anxiety. I had reflexology, which I loved. It made me feel so relaxed. You can get more information about reflexology and finding a registered practitioner from the Association of Reflexologists or the British Reflexology Association. Contact them on or visit their website at britreflex.co.uk for more information. Shiatsu Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage. It s based on the belief that good health depends on the balanced flow of energy through specific channels (meridians) in the body. Pressure is Page 4 of 6 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan

5 placed on the meridians to help restore energy balance. The therapist may also gently stretch or hold areas of the body to reduce stiffness and soreness. Many people find Shiatsu relaxing and energising and some people feel that it eases pain and other symptoms. As with other types of massage, it s important to take the precautions mentioned on page 2. You can get more information about Shiatsu and finding a registered practitioner from The Shiatsu Society. Contact them on or visit their website at shiatsusociety.org for more information. Healing Healers believe that healing energy exists all around us, and that they act as a channel through which healing energy flows into the patient. Some people find that healing provides important and valuable support. It may be referred to as spiritual or faith healing if it s used in the context of a religious or spiritual approach to heal the person. I opened my eyes feeling so calm, so relaxed...and I thought, this is really something great. Contact healing may also be known as the laying on of hands in the Christian church. In therapeutic touch, the healer works just above the surface of the body. They believe this affects an energy field that surrounds each person. Some nurses practise therapeutic touch. You can get more information about healing and finding a spiritual healer from the The Healing Trust. Contact them on or visit their website at thehealingtrust.org.uk for more information. Reiki Reiki was developed in Japan and the word Reiki is Japanese for universal life energy. Reiki therapists believe that they act as a channel for energy, which is drawn into the person having the therapy according to their need. Neither person has to use any effort or Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 5 of 6

6 concentration during the process. You don t need to remove any clothing. You sit or lie down and the practitioner gently places their hands on or just above your body in a sequence of positions that cover the whole body. Each position is held for about 2 5 minutes or until the practitioner feels that the flow of energy has slowed or stopped. A full treatment usually takes minutes. I had some Reiki treatment, which I found very relaxing and pleasant. Reiki treatment is available in some hospitals, NHS community services and support groups. You can get more information about Reiki from The Reiki Council, visit their website at reikicouncil.org.uk 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 To order a copy of Cancer and complementary therapies, visit be.macmillan.org.uk 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 REVISED IN OCTOBER 2011 Page 6 of 6 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan

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