Acupuncture and Massage: The Keys to Drug-Free Cancer Pain Management
Many cancer patients experience pain as a side effect of treatment, but a recent study shows that “acupuncture not only reduced pain and mobility difficulties, but also reduced the use of pain medication.” In addition, it states that “massage can be very beneficial for people with advanced cancer. It can reduce their pain and improve their quality of life.”
Our experience has borne out these research findings. If you’re interested in learning how acupuncture and massage can help you and your loved ones, keep reading.
How acupuncture and massage mitigate pain
Both acupuncture and massage are safe and effective ways to alleviate pain, acting as natural ways to reset the body. Massage, for example, releases endorphins, which help calm the nervous system. As a result, muscles relax, pain eases, and your immune system improves.
For those who have had surgery, massage can also help with lymphatic drainage. This means it flushes toxic by-products out of the body and decreases swelling.
Scientific studies have shown the benefits of massage for cancer patients. According to the Oncology Nursing Society, massage decreased pain, stress, anxiety, nausea, fatigue, and depression by 50 percent for a sample of 1,290 patients with cancer. Researchers from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Nursing have also suggested that massage provides comfort to patients during bone marrow transplants.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing technique used for the treatment of over 200 diseases and conditions, including pain, digestive issues, addictions, hormonal irregularities, fatigue, insomnia, and a host of others. It elevates the immune system in general and boosts the number of T-cells in particular — also called T lymphocyte or thymocyte cells — which combat infection and may even fight cancer.
Scientific studies have also provided evidence of acupuncture’s benefits for cancer patients. As researchers at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute write in the academic journal Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America, “Randomized clinical trials (RCT) have demonstrated that acupuncture is effective for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Research studies also suggest acupuncture may be helpful in managing cancer-related pain, chemotherapy-related neutropenia, cancer fatigue, and radiation-induced xerostomia.”
From an Eastern perspective, acupuncture is effective because it reanimates and moves stagnated energy, allowing it to flow. From a Western perspective, acupuncture forms negative electrical currents that attract white blood cells, which reduce infection. It also stimulates the release of endorphins and pentapeptides, such as enkephalins, neurochemicals that are associated with the reduction of pain, induction of sleep, and improvement of general health.
Cancer patients can achieve considerable pain relief through massage and acupuncture, all through the healing power of touch.
Other benefits of massage
Massage also helps overcome mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, which are common in cancer patients. Visceral massage, for instance, can help people with anxiety or depression, relieve stress, and provide emotional release — a good cry can make all the difference.
Customized massages can also soothe edemas and fascial binding, as well as break up scar tissue to restore oxygenated blood flow. In short, massage releases knots, tension, and other blocks in the body so that it can heal itself.
Cancer patients should be under the care of a physician and only visit masseuses specifically trained in oncology massage.
Other benefits of acupuncture
Acupuncture can also help manage mental health challenges like anxiety, worry, fear, and depression. Depending on the person and what they are experiencing, specific pressure points and methods can help reduce or “reframe” these emotions.
For example, in acupuncture, fear is associated with the kidneys, grief is connected to the lungs, and the spleen is involved when a patient expresses a lot of worry or anxiety. Since this is one of the organs associated with immunity, acupuncture that targets the spleen helps on two fronts.
Acupuncturists routinely work with medical professionals to reduce the amount of medication patients need, transition off pharmaceuticals entirely, or avoid potentially addictive interventions. Acupuncture is also a much better and more effective treatment than common self-medication strategies like illicit drugs, alcohol, and smoking.
How often to get massages and acupuncture
Research, as well as our personal experience, suggest that combining treatments — conventional Western medicine, holistic approaches such as massage and acupuncture, nutrition, emotional support, and others — gives people the greatest chance of regaining their health.
No cookie-cutter routine determines how many appointments a patient needs and for how long. People know their own bodies well enough to understand how long they can sustain relief between massage sessions. Based on our practice’s treatment history, twice a week is the most common timeline for acupuncture.
Care plans should be customized for each individual in consultation with their doctor.
Pain management is possible
Many cancer patients suffer from severe chronic pain. Drug-free pain management can be achieved through holistic healing methods like acupuncture and massage.
With the help of these approaches, cancer patients can change their focus, their mindsets, and their bodies. When a person is fully engaged in this transformative process, the best results become possible.
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