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Does massage therapy help chemo-induced neuropathy?

Unless you have had cancer, you know someone who has, or you work in oncology, there is little information out there regarding chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN).  Short-and long-term toxicity of platinum compounds and toxins (chemicals in chemotherapy) include the “recipe” for the development of CIPN, for which there are limited options for symptomatic relief. Although anti-neuropathic medications are available, there is increased interest from health care providers and patients in complementary approaches for symptom control, such as oncology massage therapy.

Charles Loprinzi, MD, the Regis Professor of Breast Cancer Oncology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., explained, “Oncology massage refers to a specific set of techniques using Swedish massage, given by a massage therapist who has training in working with cancer patients, taking into account the specific needs of this unique population.” He went on to say, “Specific needs mean a massage needs to adjust for different kinds of site restrictions. For example, does the patient have an area of the skin that might better not be massaged? Are there concerns regarding port placement, body positioning and bolstering?”.

During this study, it is suggested to get the Swedish-style massage two to three times per week. When patients are in this type of pain, some can barely work like they used to, let alone pay out of pocket, high costs for massages. Their window of time to be able to function “normally” is limited.  Typically, these patients have digestive side-effects as well, which tend to add to the inconvenience of leaving the patient’s home for extended periods of time.

Table. Change in Pain Quality Score With Massage Therapy

Type of CIPN

PQAS-R Score

P Value

Massage Three Times Per Week

Massage Two Times Per Week

Surface pain




Deep pain




Paroxysmal pain




CIPN, chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy; PQAS-R, Revised Pain Quality Assessment Scale

The burning sensation and feeling of pins and needles due to nerve damage can severely impact the quality of life. In one meta-analysis, 48% of patients undergoing IV chemo treatments were at risk for irreversible nerve damage or CIPN.  Furthermore, CIPN is a cumulative and persistent toxicity that is often linked with a decreased ability to receive later lines of therapy should the cancer return.  Patients with persistent CIPN may have more disability cases, outpatient hospital visits, hospital stays, and practically twice as many falls compared to those without CIPN.  These falls are disabling and life-threatening, leading to potentially added high healthcare costs. Long-term implications CIPN can become a major and possibly life-threatening condition both during and after chemotherapy.

One solution may be to look into massage chairs as an alternative therapy that could save time and money over the long haul.   A good massage chair should be designed to provide some measure of pain relief and relaxation without the need for person-to-person interaction. Some people would agree that opting to go with a massage chair as a potential means to ease their chronic pain allows the user to get a massage in the privacy of their home, on their time, and on their own schedule.   

Massage therapy increases endorphin levels – conceivably the most valuable aspect of massage. Endorphins are the ‘feel good’ chemicals that run through the body, increasing their levels, inducing positive results. Among other benefits, increasing endorphin levels has been associated with swifter recovery, reduced pain and reduced anxiety.

When the nerve endings in the hands and feet do not get enough oxygen nutrition from blood circulation, they become painful, sensitive, or numb. Massage for hand and foot neuropathy is suggested to be one of the best ways to get the blood flowing while potentially lessening pain levels.  It does take time, though; nerves heal slowly.  Research shows that, depending on the severity of symptoms, some sufferers may initially experience some pain from the massage. However, it is essential to note that healing is a process; massage therapy will produce the sought-after long-term positive results with some patience. Steadily increased pressure over time is an ideal protocol. Premium massage chairs for home use would provide the ease and frequency of access as well as pressure control, which would be a perfect option for many who suffer.

While more research is definitely needed to confirm the benefits of massage, studies have found neuropathy massage may also be helpful to:

  1. Lessen depression and anxiety
  2. Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow
  3. Improve the condition of the body’s largest organ—the skin
  4. Increase joint flexibility
  5. Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation
  6. Paresthesia and nerve pain
  7. Reduce spasms and cramping
  8. Release endorphins—amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkiller
  9. Arthritis
  10. Relieve migraine pain

Many people think of massage chairs as luxurious pieces of furniture, but they are so much more than that and with offerings other than occasional muscle relaxation. Numerous clinical studies show significant improvement in blood circulation, immunity response, muscle recovery, and managing hypertension.

Additionally, massage chairs can help combat nasty cancer side-effects, although medical technology has not progressed yet to a point where it can provide a definitive answer for sufferers. The disease’s treatment is risky, causing severe and debilitating side effects from the process, not to mention the impact of the disease itself on the patient. The stress alone on the body is said to be unlike anything else; fatigue, nausea, anxiety, depression, pain, etc., are noteworthy, but unfortunately, the list goes on ad infinitum.

The right massage chair can provide immediate relief to help combat the physiological side effect of cancer, but by assisting the body to relax also alleviates mental pressure and stress.  The chairs boost the immune system, helping the body to fight against impurities and diseases.  The benefits can be life-changing and immensely improve the quality of life for cancer patients, making massage chairs a viable aspect of personal therapy.

Talk to a healthcare provider first before considering massage for peripheral neuropathy; ask about the number of treatments that might be needed, the cost and type, and the insurance coverage if any.  Despite its benefits, massage is not meant to replace regular medical care, and be sure to follow any standard treatment plans already in place.