We knew this day was coming. My colleague and I have spent the past year or so pointedly avoiding mentioning the words “deep tissue massage” in the hearing of the professionals who run the clinic. We knew they had the (to us) sorely mistaken idea that deep tissue massage was safe for people actively undergoing chemotherapy. We figured we could do our thing, practice within the bounds of what we felt was safe, and avoid the issue.
Recently, though, we have been forced to speak out. A patient who was a regular recipient of deep tissue massage before diagnosis decided she does not want the lighter touch we are offering. And the management wants to know why. My colleague and I have spent the better part of the last week reading, highlighting and summarizing all the research we could find on oncology massage, deep tissue massage, and any intersections of the two. We have piles of research that all definitively says the same thing, and that thing is . . . .
While every acknowledged oncology massage expert I have come across asserts that deep tissue massage is not recommended or safe during treatment, there is no research which has tested this assertion. As my colleague pointed out, this is most likely because there isn’t a massage therapist anywhere who would agree to do the “deep tissue” arm of any proposed study. We did find numerous articles emphasizing the importance of having a trained therapist work with oncology patients. We also know that any legitimate training includes extensive discussion of pressure restrictions. We have also found some studies where light massage proved beneficial for oncology patients — but in these the question was not about light vs. deep pressure. The question was : does massage in general offer a benefit? (Answer: Yes.)
We have taken this peripheral, tangential, observational information and gathered it into organized packets of relevant information. The management is busy with patients and, well, management. We don’t know when our full-on discussion of this topic will happen. It may never happen, and even if it does, they may not want to listen. We have done our research, and we feel confident in our opinion. For now, we are staying crouched in or foxhole with our not-ideal ammunition, hoping for a truce.