hand massage2 7.16.11

Integrative Medicine

Toni Muirhead giving massage in outpatient treatment center

Organizations such as Oncology Nursing Society are doing research that shows the benefits of massage to help with anxiety.

 Integrative medicine combines conventional medical treatment with complementary therapies, treating the whole person, and is the best of both worlds. Integrative care is becoming more and more “mainstream,” and massage is one of the complementary therapies being offered at major cancer centers. Integrative programs can only work, though, when there is a collaboration between the teams of healthcare professionals that are there for patients. Nurses that enthusiastically mention the massage program to a new patient, elevates that patient’s interest in what massage will do for them during treatment. A team effort benefits the patient when Social Workers mention that the Massage Therapist can teach relaxation techniques. Physicians that refer a patient to the Massage Therapist to teach them stretches and self massage gives credibility to the massage program.

Organizations such as Oncology Nursing Society are doing research that shows the benefits of massage to help with anxiety. Even when the results show “likely to be effective” and more studies are required, it gives credibility to oncology massage. Research is showing the benefits of massage during treatment, dispelling the myth that massage is “hocus-pocus” or something that just “feels good.” Communicate with your doctors on how massage has always been beneficial to your pre-existing conditions and would like to continue with massage during your cancer treatment. Always be aware of the qualifications of your Massage Therapist should you decide to pursue massage during your chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

An integrative program that offers massage to the patient undergoing treatment for cancer offers a much needed antidote from necessary procedures. Patients often comment that their massage was the first time in months that someone had touched them gently with the sole purpose of comfort.

As a Massage Therapist for Memorial Cancer Institute in Hollywood, Florida, I have seen how massage can make the treatment time in a hospital setting easier for many patients. A patient who is extremely anxious on their first treatment welcomes an opportunity to choose calming massage as part of their treatment. Patients pay attention to the monthly schedule for massage, anticipating their “reward” for one more chemotherapy session or radiation treatment. Patients are pleasantly surprised to discover that a hospital would offer this service to decrease their anxiety, soothe their muscular tension and decrease their stress.

Chair massages can also be offered to caregivers, allowing a Massage Therapist to be the caregiver’s caregiver. At one outpatient cancer site I have a small room in which a family member can receive a 10 minutes chair massage. This opportunity gives family members a few minutes to relax from the errands, appointments and always being there in every way for their family member or friend. Family members are very grateful for this special service.

More and more hospitals are offering massage therapy, as part of their integrative therapies. After receiving a massage during chemotherapy many patients respond, “I can’t believe that calmed me down.” These comments provide a Massage Therapist with the opportunity to discuss the benefits of massage and the research that is taking place.

Being part of the support staff within Memorial Cancer Institute, is a great opportunity to educate patients about safe massage by qualified Massage Therapists outside of the hospital environment. Spas are a part of our culture and it is difficult for a patient to decide what is safe during treatment and possibly even in the future. Stone therapy, paraffin wax, Jacuzzis, deep tissue massage and herbal wraps are treatments offered in spas and may need to be avoided during treatment or even after treatment. Patients are very appreciative of the opportunity to obtain this useful information concerning spa treatments.

Every day I enthusiastically promote massage therapy in a hospital setting by what I say and do. Physicians and Nurses appreciate the comfort I offer to their patients. I am most grateful for their support that that has allowed the massage therapy program to grow from one center to four outpatient centers. It is a win/win situation for all when Massage Therapists are recognized as support staff in cancer centers.

Ten years ago most of the literature available for patients mentioned many relaxation techniques, and usually avoided mentioning massage. Today the literature talks about the role of massage for patients with cancer, but always by a Massage Therapist trained in Oncology Massage.

 Mind, Body & Spirit “Cancer patients are allowed to receive massage because specific medical guidelines are followed,” says Ki Y. Shin, M.D., assistant professor and section chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the cancer center’s Department of Palliative and Rehabilitation Medicine.

“Integrative Medicine is the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”  


From the Consortium of Academic Health Centers For Integrative Medicine, The Center for Integrative Medicine


Integrative Medicine is based on four primary principles: Emphasizing respect for the human capacity for healing, placing importance on the relationship between the practitioner and the patient, creating a collaborative team-based approach to patient care among practitioners, and encouraging patients to participate in their care and to learn about self-care methods in order to promote their own wellness. East Meets West is Integrative Medicine

Dempsey Center with a wonderful integrative healing center