Massage as Part of Palliative Care

Death is dreaded by most people. Some of those who have come close to it find themselves in a hospice. In many cases, there is no active treatment at this stage: all that medicine can offer these patients is palliative care, aimed to comfort them and alleviate pain. Massage has long been on the sidelines in this field, but now it is becoming more widely used – for good reason.

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Massage is a complementary therapy, and it is not designed to be a substitution for conventional medicine. As a form of touch, it can relieve physical and mental symptoms. Both are prevalent among terminally ill patients: the pain they experience has many faces, and feeling someone touching their skin either directly or through clothes in a very gentle way is something that many patients find soothing. That is why massage has become part of palliative care.

In what way is it different from conventional forms of massage?

Unlike the remedial and standard massage types, palliative care massage does not focus on speeding up the restoration of muscle function, nor does it have other predominantly therapeutic tasks. Palliative massage is there to provide some comfort, encourage lymph drainage, and benefit the emotional aspect.

While remedial and standard massage forms require the patient to lie face-down, palliative massage is more flexible: the person can sit or lie on their side, because the aim is to make it as comfortable as possible and avoid the pain associated with normal massaging. It is another way it differs: all strokes are very gentle; areas that are painful and tumors are not touched. There same is true of areas with medical devices.

Why is it beneficial?

This type of massage aims to reduce the symptoms of the terminal illness the patient suffers from, the side effects of treatment, and the consequences of lying for a long time, and address the emotional, psychological and social problems arising as a result of the disease.

Among the symptoms that the approach can help alleviate are the following:

  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Stress

In 2008, it was found that massage can help relieve pain in patients with advanced cancer, as well as depression. Another study showed that the effect can be strong enough to reduce the symptoms by nearly 50%, and it also improves sleep.

Can it be dangerous?

It goes without saying that each massage session should be tailored to every individual patient’s needs. It means that the massage therapist must be qualified and specially trained so that they know how to adjust their techniques, taking into account the currently presenting symptoms, the patient’s response to treatment, and other factors. Areas of tumors, metastases and incisions are always avoided.

Some people believe that massaging can contribute to the spread of cancer cells. But this assumption appears to be at odds with the way these cells conquer more tissues. As of this moment, these is no ample data that would suggest that the biological processes underlying the growth of metastases are not affected in any way by massaging, but research has shown that even patients with advanced cancer and metastases can benefit from palliative care massage.

One of the main reasons why palliative massage is in demand is that it provides an opportunity to feel another person’s presence, to get emotional help, as strokes help to establish contact – both psychological and physical. Massage therapists become more than just another doctor, as the connection is closer.

While palliative massage remains quite uncommon, such care, along with the support of the loved ones can help the terminally ill.

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