Massage therapy offers benefits beyond the relaxation of muscles and the reduction of stress. Research from palliative care settings found that massage therapy produced a “favorable influence” in managing pain, anxiety, and depression among patients.1 For hospices, massage therapy offers an additional pathway to comprehensive, patient-centered care that treats the entire individual for best results.
What is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy is the use of targeted touch and pressure to help reduce patients’ stress and provide a sense of peace and calm. Long used outside of hospice environments, massage therapists are now becoming part of hospice interdisciplinary groups (IDGs) focused on delivering end-to-end care for patients.
There are different types of massage therapy available depending on patient needs and preferences. For example, Swedish massage focuses on a gentle, full-body massage that uses a combination of techniques such as kneading, circular motions, and tapping. Deep tissue massages, meanwhile, use more pressure to address chronic muscle problems or soreness, while reflexology focuses on pressure points in the feet, hands, and ears — and is ideal for patients not comfortable with whole-body touch.2
Under Pressure: Patient Challenges in Hospice
There’s a growing need for massage therapy in hospice and home health to help patients better manage the stressors brought on by two years of pandemic pressures. Faced with long periods of isolation and disconnection from their regular support networks, many patients reported an uptick in suicidal thoughts and feelings.3
While massage alone isn’t enough to alleviate these issues, it offers a way to help patients reduce their stress and focus on the positives in their lives. It also offers a way for IDG teams to ensure they’re doing the most they can for patients under difficult circumstances. Along with regular nurse and physician visits combined with spiritual and emotional counseling, massage provides a sense of connection for patients who may otherwise be lacking in physical touch.
Key Hospice Benefits of Massage Therapy
Depending on patient and family needs, different types of hospice care — from facility-based to transitional to in-home — may be the best fit. But each type has something in common: the overarching goal of reducing patient suffering by creating comprehensive and personalized plans.4
Massage therapy is a critical component of these plans. Benefits for hospice include:
- Increased connection
Physical touch is a critical social connector for human beings. While hospice patients in the latter stage of care may not be comfortable with deep tissue massages, regular and gentle touches can help increase their sense of connection.
- Reduced anxiety
Anxiety in hospice is common and has seen a significant uptick since the pandemic began. Regular massages offer a way to better manage stress and anxiety experienced by patients who have endured months of virtual appointments and digital calls to family.
- Improved communication
Stress makes communication challenging, but as patients approach their end-of-life it’s critical for staff to understand their wishes around care options and pain management. Massage therapy helps patients clear their minds and focus on the moment, in turn improving brain function.5
The gentle touch of massage therapy can work wonders to help reduce patient stress and improve the delivery of comprehensive hospice care.
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1 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “The Use of Massage Therapy for Reducing Pain, Anxiety, and Depression in Oncological Palliative Care Patients: A Narrative Review of the Literature,” August 23, 2011.
2 Healthline, “What Are the Different Types of Massages?” October 17, 2017.
3 Ehospice, “Pandemic Stress Sparks Rise in Suicidal Thoughts Among Hospice Patients,” November 15, 2021.
4 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “The Role of Palliative Care at the End of Life,” December 2011.
5 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Neural Correlates of a Single-Session Massage Treatment,” January 20, 2012.