The ancient treatment of massage offers multiple healing benefits — especially for cancer patients — and modern medical research backs it up.
More than just a great back rub, massage therapy is proving its worth as a complementary cancer treatment – one that works remarkably well with other treatments, including conventional cancer therapy. It can help curb pain, relieve anxiety and fatigue, and reduce the debilitating effects of depression often experienced by those who are battling cancer.
General Health Benefits of Massage Therapy
- Improve circulation throughout the body
- Significantly decrease inflammation
- Relieve sore muscles
- Effectively lower the level of your body’s stress hormones
For cancer patients, studies have shown that massage therapy is effective in reducing the nausea and vomiting customarily experienced as a result of chemotherapy. In a study published in Chemotherapy Research and Practice, researchers concluded that a combination of massage and herbal therapy (particularly the use of ginger) is a safe and effective way to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy toxicity. It’s so effective that it rivals anti-nausea medications.
Shiatsu: A Particularly Effective Massage Technique
Western medicine focuses on treating physical symptoms, while Eastern medicine works to bring the whole body into balance. One particular form of Eastern medicine that can be especially beneficial for cancer patients is Shiatsu.
The use of Shiatsu (shi=finger; atsu=pressure) has been traced back to circa 2000 B.C. in ancient Japan. It is a method of massage using the fingers, thumbs, palms of the hands, and sometimes elbows, feet, and toes to stimulate the body’s natural healing response.
Special attention is given by the practitioner to performing shiatsu on the patient’s 12 meridians, much like the technique of accupressure. These meridians are pathways of energy often referred to as Qi or Chi (pronounced chee) and are greatly stimulated by the massage. In this way, not only is the body’s innate immune system kicked into gear, but physical functions of the body’s nervous system, internal organs, and musculoskeletal structures are positively restored.
When I was at the Kushi Institute, Shizuko Yamamoto, author of Shiatsu: The Whole Body Approach to Health, came to the Institute and I was introduced to the ancient practice. I found it to be enormously helpful and very healing, and highly recommend.
Who Can Safely Receive Shiatsu Massage?
Shiatsu is safe for both young and older people, whether in excellent or even fragile health. It can be done while the patient is fully clothed, thus of benefit to those who may be uncomfortable disrobing for treatments.
There are some conditions for which regular massage therapy are not recommended, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. In those cases, regular massage therapy may stimulate the body’s natural production of histamine, which only exacerbates the inflammation at the root of these conditions.
In these and other cases in which a patient has fresh wounds, bone fractures, is suffering from severe osteoporosis, or simply cannot tolerate touch or finds regular massage painful for whatever reason, a shiatsu practitioner may use a very light touch in order to restore the Qi connection or may even forego touch and perform shiatsu energetically above the patient’s body.
If you’ve never experienced this type of energetic healing, it’s something you might want to check out. For more information, check out the books by Shizuko Yamamoto, listed in the reference section below.
Shizuko Yamamoto, Barefoot Shiatsu: Whole-Body Approach to Health (1979) New York: Japan Pubns.
Shizuko Yamamoto and Patrick McCarty. Barefoot Shiatsu: The Japanese Art of Healing the Body Through Massage (1998) New York: Avery Publishing Group.
M. Sheikhi, A. Ebadi, A. Talaeizadeh, H. Rahman, “Alternative Methods to Treat Nausea and Vomiting from Cancer Chemotherapy,” Chemotherapy Research and Practice (2015); 818759. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/818759.
O. Argash, O. Caspi, “Touching cancer: shiatsu as complementary treatment to support cancer patients,” Harefuah (Aug-Sep 2008);147(8-9):707-11, 750, 749. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18935760/.