Massage therapy is an integrative medicine method that uses techniques that include manual manipulation of soft tissues through pressure, stretching and gentle movement.

Techniques vary, but massage therapists are commonly trained in Swedish, classical, sports massage and reflexology, among others. In the United States, massage is one of the fastest-growing forms of integrad medicine as patients and caregivers look for safe, non-drug alternatives to reduce stress, pain and anxiety, and improve overall quality of life.

Research into the effects of massage suggests benefits in many general clinical areas, including: neck pain, back pain, surgical pain, pregnancy, osteoarthritis, anxiety, insomnia and tendonitis. As to the effects of massage therapy in cancer patients, several recent studies suggest improvements in quality of life as well as activities of daily living.

Reflexology massage (focused on the feet) reduced symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, anxiety and depression in patients who undergoing chemotherapy. In breast cancer patients receiving the chemotherapy medication paclitaxel, classical massage was performed weekly for 12 consecutive weeks and was successful in preventing or diminishing chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathic pain and improving quality of life.

In a study of 57 women with breast cancer, medical-massage therapy was investigated to determine if this method could improve sleep. Medical staff performed 20 minutes of massage three times a week for four weeks. Results indicate that massage can improve the quality of sleep. This may be another non-pharmacologic method that will not interact with ongoing medical treatments.

The Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital has been providing massage therapy within the department of integrative medicine to cancer patients and their caregivers for over 25 years. All of our therapists are licensed by the state of Connecticut, approved by the medical staff office and actively participate in continuing education and community events.

Some insurance companies or employers now cover massage therapy as part of comprehensive health care benefits, so be sure to call and clarify your individual coverage. Treatments are commonly scheduled from 30 to 60 minutes. Frequency may vary based on health concerns and overall health goals.

Dr. Eric R. Secor Jr. is director of integrated medicine at Hartford Hospital

To find out more about massage therapy or to schedule an appointment at a Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute site, call 860.972.4444.