Massage and Cancer: Massage at home

Family and friends often want to do something useful for you. One way they can help is by giving you a simple, gentle massage. This can bring comfort to both people and be a way of showing love and acceptance.

Preparing for a massage

It’s a good idea to prepare yourself and the place where the massage will take place before you begin.

  • Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature. You may want to have a blanket nearby in case you get cold.
  • Choose a comfortable position. You may want to lie down or sit in a chair. Pillows under the knees, feet or tummy may help you feel relaxed.
  • Ask family and friends to remove their jewellery and cut their nails before they touch you to avoid causing you discomfort.
  • Pick a time that suits you. You may want to have the massage before pain becomes severe or you feel tired. The length of a massage session can vary – any duration from a few minutes here and there to a planned half-hour can help.
  • Use lotion or oil (such as almond oil or apricot kernel oil) during a massage to help keep the movement smooth. A massage without lotion can cause irritation and discomfort. If lotion is used, warm it first by rubbing it in your hands.
  • Remove clothing from the area to be massaged if this is more comfortable or remain clothed if you prefer.
  • Let the person giving the massage know how the massage makes you feel. If you feel pain or discomfort, ask them for gentler pressure or to change the area of massage. They must also make the same adjustments that a professional would by reducing their pressure and the speed of the massage strokes.
  • Keep a record of the massage and how it made you feel in a journal or pain management log.


Massage techniques

Hand massage

Apply lotion to the hand and with your thumb resting gently on the palm of the hand, press your fingers up into the palm, then squeeze and slide your fingers from the centre of the palm out to the edges.


Head and ear massage

Applying pressure to these areas is calming, reduces pain and may help with sleep. Sit down for this massage – or do it yourself.

Using moderate pressure, gently rotate fingertips all around the crown of your head. Move to the top of the ears, gently tweaking them between the thumb and forefinger, down to the lobes. Work the fingers behind the ears and across the back of the skull.


Foot massage

Apply lotion to the feet with slow strokes using full-hand contact. Rest one foot between the hands and apply moderate pressure with the thumbs along the sole of the foot.


Back massage

Apply lotion to the back using long, slow strokes with full-hand contact. Gently squeeze muscles with moderate and controlled pressure along the length of the back. You may prefer to lie on your side rather than face down for this massage.


Self-help with acupressure

Acupressure is similar to acupuncture – without the needles – and it is easy to do yourself. Pressure points on the body correspond to different organs. Massaging these points gently can help relieve a variety of symptoms. Focus on each point for a few minutes on both sides of the body using a soft touch.


Xiphoid process – The space where the ribs meet at the breastbone is called the xiphoid process. Gently circling the fingers on the xiphoid process is calming for many people.


Abdominal massage – Apply lotion to the whole abdomen in a right-to-left direction. Also circle the fingers around the bellybutton. This soothes the entire body.


Pressure point: pericardium 6 – This point is in between the ligaments (fibrous tissue) of the wrist. Measure three finger widths from the base of the palm. Hold the point with moderate pressure for several minutes or apply small circular strokes with firm pressure. Helps reduce nausea, pain, anxiety, insomnia and breathing difficulties.


Pressure point: large intestine 4 – Massage the muscle between the thumb and forefinger to help stimulate intestinal activity, possibly easing constipation.


Pressure point: kidney 1 – Located in the middle of the foot. To massage this point, roll the arch of the foot or entire foot over a tennis ball on the floor. This can increase energy and reduce anxiety.


Acupressure points on the body

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