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 during a massage to help keep the movement smooth and minimise irritation or discomfort. Warm the lotion or oil by rubbing it in your hands. Don’t use oil just prior to having radiotherapy.
- 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, the direction of the strokes and the speed of the massage strokes.
- Keep a record of the massage and how it made you feel in a journal or pain diary. This may help you to give useful feedback to the therapist on your next visit.
Massage makes a difference
Providing there are no skin issues, blood clots or medical devices in the arm you can do a hand massage anywhere – at home while watching TV, lying in a bed or sitting in a waiting room.
For more detailed instructions on how to provide a simple massage at home:
- speak to a massage therapist
- source massage books at your local library, bookstore or online bookstore.
Hand massage – Apply lotion to the hand and with your thumbs resting gently on the palm of the hand, apply circular motion to the palm of the hand and then apply a comfortable pressure up along each of the fingers.
Head and ear massage – Applying pressure to the head and ear area 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 rubbing 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 using a soft touch and repeat on both sides of the body.
Xiphoid process – The area at the lower end of the breastbone (sternum) 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 gently, in a clockwise 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. This 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, and possibly ease 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.
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.View our editoral policy