Research on Therapeutic Massage for Cancer Patients: Potential Biologic Mechanisms
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There is preliminary evidence that therapeutic massage is a useful modality for the relief of a variety of symptoms and symptom-related distress affecting cancer patients. Mechanistic studies are necessary to delineate underlying biologic and psychological effects of massage and their relationship to outcomes. The current article discusses a model for using nuclear magnetic resonance techniques to capture dynamic in vivo responses to biomechanical changes induced in the soft tissues by massage. This model enables study of the communication of soft tissue changes to activity in the subcortical central nervous system. We hypothesize that the therapeutic components of massage are twofold: (1) a rapid direct effect on local fascia, muscle, and nerves and (2) a slower delayed effect on the subcortical central nervous system that ultimately incorporates remodeling of plastic neuronal connections. This testable model has important implications for mechanistic research on massage for symptom control of cancer patients since it opens up new research avenues that link objective physiologic indices with the effects of massage on the subjective experience of pain and other symptoms.
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