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Managing Cancer Pain: Massage Therapy

Read time: 3 minutes
Ben Smith, LMT

Ben Smith, LMT, and a massage therapy patient
Ben Smith, LMT, and a massage therapy patient

Recently published guidelines for pain management highlight the benefits of acupuncture, massage therapy, and music therapy. All three treatments reduce pain related to cancer and its treatment. In this second installment of a three-part series, we look at the benefits of massage therapy.

What is massage therapy?

Massage therapy uses touch to help relax muscles. For centuries, it has been a healing therapy in many cultures around the world. Massage can lower stress and help you feel calmer. It affects the body as a whole, especially the muscles, bones, and circulation, as well as the lymphatic and nervous systems.

Massage therapy uses therapeutic touch and hands-on techniques to alleviate a wide range of symptoms. Huntsman Cancer Institute offers outpatient therapy in the Wellness and Integrative Health Center, inpatient therapy in the bone marrow transplant unit and ICU, and staff can be treated in clinical areas to promote employee wellness.

What are the benefits of massage therapy?

Massage can help reduce stress, anxiety, and pain in people with cancer. For many people, massage brings a temporary feeling of well-being. Massage helps relax muscles and can also relieve pain and stiffness, increase mobility, help injured muscles, and reduce the pain of headaches and backaches.

“The impacts of pain are not only physiological, but social, and deeply embedded in what it means to be human,” says Ben Smith, licensed massage therapist and massage program coordinator. “Treating pain using massage therapy is rewarding because we get to help people come back into connection with their body and the activities they value. There is so much satisfaction in hearing from a patient that they were able to spend more time playing with their grandkids, or going for a walk outside, or being able to enjoy a beloved hobby.”

How can the Wellness and Integrative Health Center help?

Massage therapy has been a part of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s treatment since 2014, when it was brought by patient request to the Wellness and Integrative Health Center.

Since then, the program has grown to provide over 5,000 massages each year and cares for patients, caregivers, and staff. Here are some of the treatment options provided by the massage therapists.

  • Oncology massage: individual massage plans for people with cancer
  • Lymphatic massage: very light, brushing touches on the skin to help drain lymphedema
  • Swedish massage: kneading and rubbing touch for relaxation, easier movement, and better circulation
  • Reflexology: pressure on specific areas of feet, hands, or ears to ease many kinds of symptoms
  • Craniosacral therapy: light touch to skull, spine, and pelvis, to release tension and improve movement
  • Guided visualization and meditation massage: massage in which the therapist gives cues to create a mental state that can help reduce pain, stress, and anxiety
  • Energy-based therapies: fully-clothed light-touch hand movements to promote healing

All massage therapists are licensed by the state of Utah.

Huntsman Cancer Institute has been a leader in integrative approaches to pain management and offers treatments at lower costs to patients, survivors, and caregivers. The Wellness and Integrative Health Center offers outpatient acupuncture and massage therapy treatments from highly-trained providers.

Shelley White, PhD, manages the Wellness and Integrative Health Center. “I love it when patients tell me, ‘my doctor told me my engagement in the wellness center services during my treatment will help me get through my cancer treatment.’ Provider referrals at the onset of a new diagnosis are a testament to how forward-thinking and truly integrative Huntsman Cancer Institute really is.”

To make an appointment for acupuncture, call the Wellness and Integrative Health Center at 801-587-4585.

Cancer touches all of us.