With the influx of advanced medical technology and the great variety of drugs available, we tend to forget that the simple, careful touch of the human hand is one of the most ancient and effective means for relieving discomfort in the body. Pain control is often a primary concern for hospice patients, and massage is an excellent nonpharmacological modality for reducing or alleviating pain, and thus reducing the need for narcotic painkillers.
Massage has been proven useful as a primary or adjunct therapy for any condition that includes a stress component, and being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease is high on any list of stress-producing events. Acupressure techniques are being used by the author to relieve tension in the trapezius muscle of a lung cancer patient.
Massage has proven to be extremely useful for some hospice patients in managing stress and alleviating pain, which can reduce the need for psychotropic and narcotic medications, all of which have their own negative side effects.
A primary benefit of massage for those who are less mobile or bedridden is its use in helping to prevent pressure sores. Once referred to as “bed sores,” these skin ulcerations are most likely to occur over bony areas of the body, such as the tailbone, buttocks, elbows, shoulders and heels, that are in constant contact with a mattress.
Massaging areas of the body that have been most recently under pressure— thus stimulating circulation at the susceptible points, along with encouraging the patient to change positions frequently— has long been recommended in nursing manuals as an aid in preventing pressure sores. The massage therapist can also be on the lookout for reddened, thinning or “hot” areas, and give that area immediate attention.Hospice patients may experience dry or itchy skin as a side effect of inactivity and drug therapy, or as a reaction to body systems beginning to shut down. Such a condition can cause further agitation for a person who is already feeling anxious, weak and vulnerable. A moisturizing massage lotion helps alleviate dry skin. It feels soothing and nurturing, and can help calm a troubled spirit.