by Robert Amaro, LMT
Those in the hospice and palliative care business tend to overlook the value and positive effects massage has on our patients. Perhaps it is due to a misunderstanding of what we do in hospice compared to what we might do in a traditional spa setting. The difference between spa services and the type of massage we do with hospice and palliative care patients is a little like comparing apples and oranges; they are night and day.
A few of the services offered in a traditional spa setting would never work for our patients. Massage services such as deep tissue, Swedish massage and hot stone would never go over well for the patients we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Another service you might see offered at a spa is the body wrap, and some wellness centers even have pre-natal massage. The list is endless of the types of specialty massage services offered at upscale spas and salons. Of course none of these massage services will work for our hospice and palliative care patients.
There are several massage modalities that can be incorporated specifically into the needs of the hospice/palliative care patient. First and foremost is a technique called CranioSacral Therapy (CST). CST is a light touch approach that can create dramatic improvements to one’s body because it directly affects the cranium, the spinal cord and the sacrum. Its goal is to release tension deep within the body, thereby relieving pain. The modality has a direct effect on the central nervous system. In fact, there are some interesting studies on the profound effects CST has on a variety of end of life pathologies such as Parkinson’s disease, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is another technique used frequently in the hospice and palliative care field. Many cancer patients develop edema in their upper and lower extremities. MLD simply moves the fluid out. The results can be instantaneous when this technique is used correctly. Many patients with edema fear they can’t be touched and nothing can be done to help them but this technique has had some astounding results.
Another technique used to help patients relax when they are agitated or restless is Reiki. This is an energy technique that lightly palpates the body or, in some cases, uses the patient’s aura to communicate with the body without the need for touch. The patient’s body simply responds to its own energy fields with a massage therapist’s assistance. Yes, even patients who are obtunded and unresponsive still have energy in their bodies and that energy can be affected in a positive manner.
The massage therapists at Nathan Adelson Hospice are highly skilled at what they do. One of the best compliments I ever received was from a nurse who said, “When you get done doing your work, my patients are less agitated and they need less medication.” Less medication at this point and time is one of the great benefits of massage therapy. This is a strong testament to the type of work we do and the results we can achieve.
All of NAH patients can benefit from massage therapy. Whether the patient is alert, lethargic, obtunded or unresponsive, massage therapy can have a profoundly positive effect.
Robert Amaro, LMT, is a massage therapist in the Las Vegas, NV, area and has been practicing Hospice and Palliative Care massage for the last four years. His current employer, Nathan Adelson Hospice, has offered him immense opportunities and challenges. To help people find comfort at the end stages of life is one of the most rewarding positions he has ever had – it is Robert’s pleasure to share some of his experiences.