By and large, massage therapy that is performed by a properly schooled and well-experienced massage therapist who practices his or her art prudently and with due caution, is risk-free to its recipient’s health and wellbeing. For that reason along, if for no other, massage therapists must be selected very carefully as credentials and licenses are scrutinized meticulously, references are checked with diligence, and questions are asked relentlessly. Regardless of how it is phrased or worded, one question which must always be asked of a potential massage therapist is the following, “Which health conditions would you consider preclusive of massage therapy and why?” And the correct answer, whether stated in exactly those words or different ones, should be, “There are certain health conditions which may mean you cannot have massage therapy and those are …” And he or she must name the following:
- Cancer. Massage therapy comes in different forms which affect the body differently. There are also many different types of cancers and patients may be at different stages and receiving different treatments. In some cases and certain types of massage therapy may lead to life threatening results while in other cases with another type of massage therapy the results may be extraordinarily beneficial. Because of such complexity, it is essential to consult with the medical provider who knows the particulars of the case in question before proceeding with a massage therapy of any kind. The potential risks involved in performing massage therapy on cancer patients do not inevitably discard the entire concept of massage therapy but it does mean that extra caution must be practiced and, perhaps, moderate to extreme alteration of the treatment is in order. And the health risks are the following:
- Fractures of bones. Certain forms of cancer and their treatments weaken bones to the extent that they can easily break under pressure.
- Bleeding. Many cancer patients have the tendency to bleed easily. Deep tissue massage can cause dangerous internal bleeding.
- Pain. Cancer patients frequently suffer a great deal of pain and most massage therapy techniques can result in some temporary pain immediately after the treatment. That may translate to added pain when too much of it is already present and that can be quite literally unbearable.
- Flu-like symptoms. Patients who are going through chemotherapy can often develop symptoms which look and feel like the flu after having been treated to certain types of massage therapy.
- Spreading of cancerous tumors. There is an ongoing debate about the effects of massage therapy on tumors. Some claim that applying vigorous pressure to the area where the tumor is present will cause it to metastasis (break down and to spread or to increase its rate of growth). Others, however, deny that claim as unsubstantiated and untrue. It is best to play it safe and not massage the tumor region or its surrounding soft tissues.
- Lymphedema (the buildup of lymph in soft tissue which leads to swelling of the limbs). Certain types of massage therapy in patients who have had their lymph nodes removed due to cancer may lead to lymphedema.
- Post-surgery. Shortly after surgery, the wound is still in the process of healing visually on the surface of the skin as well as internally. Applying pressure to the site may cause a series of risky health problems such as reopening the incision, trigger internal and/or external bleeding or blood clotting, and so on.
- Skin conditions. Areas where the skin is infected, inflamed or covered with rashes or sores should not be massaged as it can lead to worsening of the condition.
Even when taking into account all the risks which have been mentioned above, massage therapy can still be very beneficial to most people in most situations. Rather than discounting it completely due to specific concerns, I would advise consulting a physician.