resourcesABOUT MT AUTHOR GUIDELINES CLASSIFIEDS EDITORIAL CALENDAR MEDIA GUIDE MASSAGE MART SCHOOLS & EDUCATION FEEDBACK
Sleep, Less Sleep or No Sleep?
I had a dream I wasn't getting enough sleep. It was a very realistic dream, even though I was probably slightly awake and not really deep dreaming. Most likely I had been dozing, caught in that twilight of sleep and wakefulness.
Applying the Thin Skull Principle
The "thin skull" principle, also known as the "you take your victim as you find them" principle, is a legal principle that can be summed up by the following statement.
Will You Be an Amplifer or a Mute?
These times are changing, and changing quickly. There have been many challenges to this profession throughout the past few years. The challenge is to talk, then talk and talk some more about this medicine.
Turning a Blind Eye to History – and Reality
The American Medical Association is taking the Supreme Court's Feb. 25, 2015 decision exactly as it always does – by turning a blind eye to history, legal precedent and reality.
Term Limits: What's in a Word?
It was the French historian and philosopher Voltaire who once declared the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire.
Optimism = Compassion = Trust
A randomized clinical trial recently published online in JAMA Oncology examined how patients viewed their doctor based upon how the practitioner presented bad news to the patient.
A Well-Kept Secret: 5 Element Acupuncture, Part II
Supervising acupuncture interns at a TCM college, it has always struck me how funny it is to hear the clinic manager tell the patients that the Five Element clinic specializes in treating emotions, as if patients with physical pain have no emotions!
Low Back Pain in Professional Golf: A Common Muscular Relationship
Every sport creates its own unique demands on the body. Some sports require such a myriad of body positions that assessing pathology is often difficult and unpredictable.
An Excerpt from TCM Case Studies: Pediatrics
This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Jamie Wu. TCM Case Studies: Pediatrics was released in 2014 by People's Medical Publishing House.
A House Divided?
The American Chiropractic Association's House of Delegates voted on 30 resolutions at its annual business meeting in Washington D.C., but two in particular took immediate center stage due to their controversial nature.
Synergy Doesn't Happen in Silos: Acupuncture in Hospitals and Other Healthcare Settings
As acupuncture and traditional East Asian medicine continue to intersect and integrate with biomedical approaches, the conversation about integration expands and becomes richer.
Talking to Patients About Lumbar Facet Denervation (Medial Branch Neurotomy)
Lumbar facet denervation, more appropriately termed medial branch neurotomy (MBN), is a procedure that may be considered when patients suffer from recalcitrant non-radicular axial back and/or leg pain.
Recreational Cannabis Use and TCM
Many people are drawn to cannabis for its effects physically, mentally and emotionally. Medically, cannabis has some legitimate uses, however the scope of this article is limited to the recreational use of cannabis.
TCM Congress in Rothenburg is Largest in Western World
In the medieval town of Rothenburg, deep set within the Bavarian countryside in Southern Germany, the TCM Kongress Rothenburg each year draws around 1.200 participants from more than 40 different countries to attend the biggest TCM conference in the Western world.
A View From the ER
The University of Western States has inked an innovative agreement with local nonprofit health system Legacy Health whereby UWS sports-medicine fellows can experience observational clinical rotations in emergency-room settings within the Legacy system.
Converting More Patients to Your Practice
In 2013 and 2014, the theme was "the money is in the list." This meant that if you had a big email list, you were really making some "cha-ching." Unfortunately, having thousands of emails doesn't equate to thousands of dollars in profit.
There Really is No Room for Sexism
Recently, Matteo* (a transgender male) approached me during a break in an advanced shiatsu class in Berlin where he was one of two men in a group of 20 women. "Pamela. Don't forget to remind the translator to include male endings."
The Way We Are Designed: A Conversation with Gil Hedley, PhD
I was first introduced to the work of Gil Hedley by Tom DiFerdinando. He gifted me Gil's DVD series.
The Dietary Supplement Research Dilemma
I do not care what the truth is, one way or another; I just want to know it. And when it comes to dietary supplements, the truth can be hard to find for a number of reasons.
Treating Beyond Pain
More often than not, when a patient presents to the office, it is for a pain complaint. Headache, neck pain, low back pain, sciatica, carpal tunnel... The pain is often the focus of the patient's mindset, and they don't often have any thought of what comes after the pain.
The Need for a New Medical Model: A Challenge for Biopsychosocial and Ecopsychologica Medicine
Chinese medicine speaks of alignment between humans, heaven and earth. It is a complex view with a focus upon relationship. These are comprehensive ideas with no specific terms in contemporary medical practice.
October, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 10
Searching for Simple Rules in Massage and Cancer Care
By Tracy Walton, LMT, MS
In a Facebook post, a massage therapist requested quick advice for working with a client with cancer. On Facebook, of course, everything is quick.Almost immediately, he was bombarded with massage recommendations, safety protocols, references to books and trainings and encouragement to get a note from the client's doctor before beginning massage therapy. Opinions were all over the place and some didn't agree, but most were strongly held.
There are many safety protocols in massage for people with cancer, depending on the approach, and some of them may seem strict and even intimidating. They may even call to mind an old-school style teacher with a stern face and pointer in hand, barking a lot of, "No!" and "Never!"
And it's just as tempting to condense the protocols into a "Ten Commandments" format, a simple list to keep everyone out of trouble, without having to think much more about it.
More Than One Disease
But real oncology massage practice is not as simple as a quick list and here is why: the word "cancer" represents more than 200 different diseases. Even "breast cancer" is not a single condition but is classified into several different types. Drilling it down even further, two clients with the same type of primary breast cancer can present very differently, depending on the extent of the disease, reactions to treatment and other factors.
With so many ways our oncology clients can present, a list of "10 Things to Remember for Massage for a Client with Cancer" would not begin to capture them all. This is disappointing for those of us who've come to expect our advice in neat 5- or 10-point lists, packaged and propagated on social media.
Moreover, many of us learned and practice massage contraindications based on a client's diagnosis. Massage is contraindicated for X or Y condition. Unfortunately, this approach has never been adequate for any condition. But it particularly backfired in the case of cancer, where we had a single, flat-out, send-them-home massage contraindication that endured for decades. That one never worked well for clients or therapists. All it did was keep them apart.
Things have improved since then, with plenty of literature and training on oncology massage, a growing cohort of oncology massage therapists and even a professional organization, the Society for Oncology Massage (www.s4om.org). Thanks to the Society, there are standards of practice and even standards of oncology massage education with a fleet of recognized instructors around the globe. Some massage schools, as well, have made improvements in instruction, with careful attention to this population.
But in some places, the thinking hasn't evolved much at all. In many circles, "Send them home," has been replaced with, "Work lightly and you should be fine." This single approach is hard to justify for 200 different conditions representing thousands of different client presentations. Unfortunately, a blanket contraindication is not any improvement over a blanket contraindication. Still, we cling to rules like this. Sometimes too tightly. We strive to follow them to the letter because, if we do this, we will be doing everything "right" and the outcome will be positive. Or will it?
Beware the Blanket
Take all the many different types of cancer alongside all the different types of PEOPLE in the world – age, gender, level of activity, health history, ability to bounce back from illness, responses to cancer treatment and the thousands of other factors that make up who they are – and there just isn't a blanket rule big enough to cover it all. Nor should there be.
At a recent oncology massage practice clinic, we had two clients with similar-sounding diagnoses. Both had been diagnosed with breast cancer within the past four years, had received similar treatments and were about the same age. On paper, they could have been twins, except for their answers to this question: "What kind of activities are you able to participate in?" "Client A" wrote "kayaking and yoga." "Client B" wrote "babysitting grandchildren." Without making assumptions, this was our first hint that one might be more active than the other.
On the day of the clinic, "Client A" sailed into the treatment room, looking robust and buoyant with energy. She greeted everyone with clear eyes and shook hands vigorously. "Client B" was much more careful with her steps, stopping for frequent rests on the way up the stairs, her gait slower than her "twin-on-paper." The difference between the two was immediately obvious.
Different Presentation, Different Massage
"Client A" needed some adjustments in massage – notably in stroke direction, placement and pressure over the arm and trunk compromised by missing lymph nodes. With lymphedema risk, she had to receive thoughtful work in that area, as described in Gayle MacDonald's epic text, Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer.
But outside these careful measures, "Client A" could take slightly stronger work in places, and that's what she received that day. Afterward, she was relaxed, glowing and effusive about the massage therapist's skills.
"Client B" needed the gentlest massage – light pressure, slow speed, even rhythms, gradual transitions and a host of other adjustments to the information in her history. Also at risk for lymphedema, she received similar work in the at-risk area. After such a gentle session, she looked blissfully relaxed. A stronger session could easily have wiped her out. Instead, she seemed to float out the door as slowly as she'd entered it.
After thoughtful interviews and sound clinical reasoning, each client received an individualized session. But had we practiced with a "go lightly and you should be fine" mentality, Client A and Client B would have received identical sessions. Client A would have received the massage meant for Client B, with the possibility of a much less satisfying experience.
This has serious consequences, because without customized care, we can lose clients. Why? Because they can feel as if they are not being heard or being seen for who they are beyond the "cancer" label. We want to stay far away from the possibility of causing injury to our clients with cancer, of course. Our hearts are in the right place. But if we are TOO careful, we can be seen as being out of touch with what our client really needs and what they are capable of safely receiving.
Some of those harder-and-faster "rules" are easy and there is comfort in that ease. But sometimes, in our quest to compartmentalize and label and follow rules X, Y and Z, the client themselves – how they present, what they want, who they ARE – gets pushed aside. When our client comes and sits down in our treatment room for the first time, they deserve more than an imaginary "cancer" stamp on their forehead.
A Place for Protocols
There is a time and place, certainly, for sticking closely to protocols that we have been taught so that we can deliver a safe massage. I'm a fan of protocols as a place to start.
But I also like principles – general guidelines to use in different scenarios with thought as to how they are applied. These wear better than rigid, inflexible rules. In my book, Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy, I offer principles to follow. One is the Unstable Tissue Principle, which states, "If a tissue is unstable, do not challenge it with too much pressure or joint movement in the area." Tissue can be unstable for many different reasons, but in the "twin clients' case," lymph node removal put them both at risk of lymphedema. (A carefully structured, gentle approach was necessary and it's impossible to describe it fully in a sentence or two.)
There, the clients' similarities ended. The Activity and Energy Principle states, "A client who enjoys regular, moderate physical activity or a good overall energy level is better able to tolerate strong massage than one whose activity or energy level is low." Client A could take more. Not lots more, because of some lifelong changes that can be caused by cancer treatment. But more.
Yet, by themselves, even principles are not enough to go on without good thought, good interviewing and solid hands-on skills for this population and other medically complex scenarios. Neither of the principles above captures the full range of clinical possibilities in people with cancer or cancer histories. That's the point.
We have to step back from the name of the disease, from the so-called "rules," and even from the friendlier "principles." Zoom out and see how the condition presents in this one person, this one individual so different from anyone else. This person living this person's life, not someone else's life. Then, a client receives the massage for the client; not the massage meant for someone else.
This is what we figure into our interview and hands-on work. Instead of one-dimensional, black-and-white rules for massage contraindications, critical thinking, clinical reasoning and interview skills deserve emphasis in massage education and clinical practice.
Some massage therapists can figure out what is needed by reading, self-teaching or prior experience with medically complex populations. But most need training in these skills. Training is just as important for learning what we can do, as what we should not do. That's where the Society for Oncology Massage comes into play. They laid a foundation; now the rest of us don't have to reinvent the wheel.
And there are many other resources out there. On my website (www.tracywalton.com), there are several bibliographies, a blog, and I've put up webinars about massage in cancer care for an intro to the deeper issues at work. For my own education, I read everything on oncology massage that I can get my hands on and I ask my students and colleagues to as well. Unlike 20 years ago, there is now plenty of literature available.
And plenty of clients deserving great, customized care.
Click here for more information about Tracy Walton, LMT, MS.
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