What is Oncology Massage?

This is a question I get asked by therapists, clients, medical professionals and even by those who are well versed in the benefits of soft tissue therapy. In my experience, what makes it different from other types of massage is the disease and the clients’ state of health. Like other conditions that affect the tissue and the physiology of the body’s systems, therapists will need to modify their techniques, the positioning, the duration of the session, the depth, speed and the area in which a therapist can work. A massage therapist will also need to consider the type, the location and the effect of both the disease and treatment. The biggest difference, however, is the actual application of the massage.

Oncology massage is neither light, fluffy or insubstantial, it addresses the needs of the client and how the tissue responds, the most descriptive word I use when teaching this method is to feel what is happening underneath your hands, to be led by the tissue and respond to it, not force your way through in an unthinking way, but to ‘melt’ into the soft tissue in a considered way. This form of massage is not exclusive to Oncology but it is less demanding on those who are suffering with cancer or any condition that is placing a greater stress on the body’s systems, the intention of this approach is to assist the client’s recovery rather than causing them to recover from the massage.

This approach to Oncology massage is in fitting with my “less is more” ethos when it comes to using force, which I apply to all of I take great umbrage with the school of thought that massage should be a painful experience, both in the application and recovery phase. I firmly believe that one of the most important aspects of my practise is encouraging people to listen to the messages their body is telling them; if the body is sending pain messages following a massage then this would indicate that it has been damaged. Pain does not equate to healing in my book, and you do not have to use brute force to increase blood flow to an area. Of course, this is especially true for Oncology massage. Cancer can have many symptoms, of which pain is one of them, and I certainly don’t want to be adding to this.

My desired outcome for this form of massage is to leave the patient feeling relieved. Whilst there are numerous physical benefits of massage, there are just as many for mental health. Cancer can be very tough emotionally, with patients having to cope with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. As a practitioner, I also need to constantly be mindful of the body as a whole; I could not consider myself holistic if I did not.

This mean that I have to be aware of the fact that the body is not just a mass of solitary organs, nerves, bones, and muscles which do one job and do not communicate or relate to each other. The body is a finely balanced ‘machine’ with parts that interact; if one of these is thrown off balance then it will have a knock-on effect. This means that any physical malfunction can impact on our mental state. When performing Oncology massage we must be aware of this fact, and we must also educate ourselves on the potential mental health impact the diagnosis may entail.