Types of massage and touch therapies

There are many different types of massage therapy, and it’s important to choose the right massage for your needs. The style used for people with cancer or recovering from it will depend on the treatment they’re having. Most commonly, soft and gentle styles are recommended. Regardless of the massage style used, it will be adapted for you.

Massage styles

  • acupressure - pressure points on the body are massaged to change the flow of energy in the body and relieve physical symptoms in different organs.
  • aromatherapy - aromatic essential oils made from selected flowers and plants are blended and applied to the skin during a massage to help release stress and tension.
  • lomi lomi or ka huna massage - Hawaiian style of massage that uses large, broad movements to stimulate the flow of energy and help release stress and tension.
  • manual lymphatic drainage - gentle strokes that stimulate the movement of lymphatic fluid.
  • myofasical release - gentle sustained pressure and strokes to soft tissue to help relieve pain and restore motion.
  • reflexology - the feet and hands are stimulated in specific areas (reflex points) that correspond to other parts of the body.
  • seated chair massage - massage is focused on the head, neck, shoulders, back and arms to release stress and tension.
  • shiatsu - pressure points are massaged lightly with the fingers, thumbs, elbows, knees, hands and feet to improve circulation and restore energy.
  • Swedish massage - long, flowing strokes tone soft tissues, stimulate circulation, improve oxygen flow and relax muscles. It is the most common massage style.
  • trigger point therapy - specific points in the soft tissue of the body are compressed and stretched to reduce muscular pain.

Other touch therapies

Personal accounts from people with cancer suggest that these gentle styles of touch may help promote relaxation and reduce pain.

  • Bowen therapy - through gentle touching and the movement of soft tissue and muscles, the body feels deeply relaxed.
  • craniosacral therapy - gently releases tension from the soft tissue of the head, spine and pelvis, aiming to improve overall wellbeing.
  • healing touch - the therapist’s hands softly touch the body to help restore an inner feeling of harmony, balance and wellbeing.
  • jin shin jyutsu - fingertips or hands are placed on key parts of the body and special breathing techniques help restore the body’s energy.
  • polarity therapy - gently touching and rocking the body, and stretching or rotating the legs, can lead to deep relaxation and improved wellbeing.
  • reiki - the hands are gently placed in different positions along the body or slightly above the body, which can be calming and relaxing. Because of the limited touch involved this is sometimes considered an energy therapy.
  • theraeputic touch - soothing, rhythmic movements along the body promote peacefulness and relaxation by restoring the body’s energy.
This information was last reviewed in September 2014

This information has been reviewed by: Kate Butler, Supervising Oncology Massage Therapist, Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre, Austin Hospital, VIC; Dragana Ceprnja, Health  Professional Educator, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Erinna Ford, Consumer; Jane Hutchens, Naturopath and Registered Nurse, NSW; Katherine Maka, Senior Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Jim Olds, Vice President of Australian Natural Therapists Association, QLD; Helpline Operators, Cancer Council Queensland and Cancer Council SA.

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