This is the fourth installment in our "Myth"conceptions About Lymph Massage series (full list here). Today we're going to take a look at the myth that Lymph Massage should never be done with cancer... and of course the counter-myth that you should. As always, there is some truth on both sides and your answer is somewhere in the middle.
Let's get to it!
A Personal Story About Using Lymph Massage with Cancer
At our practice, we had a long-time client, who I’ll call J., who was an active woman that even worked in the health & fitness industry.
After knowing and working with her for years, J. just disappeared for almost a year.
We were crushed to find out that she had been dealing with stage 4 lung cancer and when she called us up again, she was in the final stages of her life. J. was terminal, knew she only had a few weeks left while things got worse, and wanted Lymphatic Facilitation (LF) to make it a bit easier.
I was honored to go to her house (after having given up doing outcalls a decade prior) and work with her in her final days and weeks.
Although nothing I could do would cure her, it was gratifying to see how much relief it gave her. She was so appreciative. Her last days certainly weren’t comfortable, but they weren’t nearly as miserable as they could have been either.
You Can (and often should) Do Lymph Massage With Cancer
Cancer spreads through the lymphatic system to the nearest nodes then around the body (metastasis). That would seem to be a pretty strong indicator to not enhance lymph flow for anyone who has cancer, right?
Not so. That (false) thinking used to be taught in every massage school and even preached by doctors. Good thing we know better now or J. wouldn’t have been able to get that relief.
Lymph Massage is Gentle on Cancer
LF is gentle. Suuuuuuuuuper gentle. Like just enough to move your eyelid over your eyeball gentle. So gentle that you probably have more chance causing cancer to spread by going up the stairs than with LF.
You see, LF only enhance existing flow. If the cancer isn’t dislodged into the flow, LF isn’t going to dislodge it.
If you can handle even mild exercise (like a walk around the block), LF isn’t any more challenging to you.
Lymph Massage (or any other massage) Should Be Performed at the Capacity-Level of the Cancer Patient
That said, any bodywork, LF or otherwise, should be matched in intensity to the capacity of the recipient – robust bodies can handle more vigorous treatment, frail bodies demand it more gentle. The same goes for conditions and even body parts – you might be robust in general, but have an area of your body that is weak and frail and can’t handle what the rest of you could.
The good news is that LF is so gentle that it is appropriate for most everyone (with some exceptions like infection and open wounds). [find out if LF is right for you]
Regardless, there are a couple of considerations when using LF with cancer.
- With cancer you should check with your doctor to discuss your personal situation and whether or not it is appropriate.
- Never pump the proximal/superior nodes to the cancer location (that means the ones closer to the torso or the nodes immediately above)
- Massage and LF can affect the circulation and uptake of medications (including insulin), so again, talk to your doctor first.