Massage therapists are known for providing stress relief and promoting an overall sense of well-being. For those who engage in medical massage, the focus is directed more toward injuries or a condition diagnosed by a medical professional. Clients who present for medical massage have unique issues therapists can address by using the right techniques — and the right topical products.
Margo Benge, owner of Miracles in Missouri City, Texas, has extensive experience in lymphatic massage and has treated clients with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, cancer, neuropathy, impaired range of motion, headaches, asthma, edema and allergies. She also offers massage to pre- and postsurgical patients. While the methods she uses are more important than the topicals, there are certain products she finds helpful during massage for a medical condition.
Medical Massage Topicals for Pain
For clients who present with pain, Benge usually uses special pain massage oil with all-natural ingredients. “For extremely dry skin, for example with psoriatic arthritis, I use pure vitamin E oil. For most applications I will use grape seed oil, cold pressed,” she said. “Many of the more popular pain massage products make skin feel heavy and have some sort of solvent involved, which dries the skin.”
Other massage therapists who offer medical massage agree that topical products should contain natural ingredients. “Introducing chemicals into the equation only asks for problems with allergens, skin reactions and unsafe effects,” said Jamie Bacharach, head of practice at the Acupuncture Jerusalem Clinic in Israel. “Lean on clean, pure carrier oils for best results, those that promote handiwork without friction and aid in the relief of pain and medical ailments.”
Specifically, Bacharach likes to use coconut oil, which is light and non-greasy and easily absorbs into the skin, while naturally promoting relief for muscle soreness and injury. She pointed out that it also possesses antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. “Coconut oil is excellent for massage cases which involve skin that is particularly sensitive or dry. Coconut oil … possesses a high concentration of fatty acids, making it a stable oil that wouldn’t invite infection or further injury,” she said.
“Additionally, coconut oil is rich in vitamin E and antioxidants, which can serve to protect skin against burns, rash or other skin ailments. It also has a light, generally pleasant scent, which makes for a more satisfying massage experience.”
Bacharach also favors the use of massage oils and creams that contain apricot oil. She explained that this oil has a similar lipid content to our skin, so it absorbs quickly and effectively rehydrates skin with low lipid levels. “Apricot oil also possesses vitamins A, B, C and E, as well as natural antioxidants that will aid in healing and relief from muscle soreness,” she said. “Finally, apricot oil blends particularly well with essential oils, offering users the possibility to customize for desired scent and effect.”
Medical Massage Topicals That Hydrate
Trained in oncology massage, Denise Gonzales works for Soothe, a massage app company that offers massage to patients, caregivers, hospital staff and clinicians at City of Hope, a cancer center in the Los Angeles area.
She pointed out that patients who have cancer often have extremely delicate, dry and stressed skin. She prefers products with all-natural ingredients that are gentle and do not contain waxy fillers or chemical-laden ingredients or preservatives, like parabens. The ingredients must effectively hydrate and nourish the skin without irritating or inflaming it, she emphasized.
One of Gonzales’ preferred topical ingredients is shea butter, which has anti-inflammatory and healing properties as well as high concentrations of fatty acids and vitamins that make it ideal for softening skin.
Another favorite is olive oil, which prevents oxidation, a process that can produce harmful free radicals and may contribute to the development of cancer. Gonzales pointed out that olive oil contains the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
“Some of these vitamins may be beneficial for the skin. For example, people have used vitamin E oil topically to treat a variety of skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema,” she said. Similar to shea butter, olive oil is moisturizing and is known to have antibacterial properties.
To address delicate, stressed and extremely dry skin in patients with cancer, Gonzales likes to use a topical with green tea, which contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant that works to reactivate the reproduction process of skin cells, giving dull skin a healthier glow. She reported that green tea is replete with vitamins B and E, which are essential for skin health.
In recent years, avocado has become popular as a health food and its oil also offers moisturizing benefits for the skin. In addition to vitamins A, D and E, avocado oil contains potassium, lecithin and omega-3 fatty acids. In combination, these ingredients nourish the epidermis, which easily absorbs these nutrients, according to Gonzales. Applied externally, avocado oil mixed with olive oil brings relief to dry, inflamed skin, she added.
When to Avoid Topicals
While topicals in general are safe to use, there are circumstances under which they should be avoided.
For instance, Bacharach cautions against using topical products on clients who are suffering from an ailment in a specific area. “If, for example, a client was suffering from an injury to a particular ligament, disk or nerve in their back, precision would be absolutely key in order to provide an effective medical massage. This would be as opposed to a more generalized back soreness or pain that was present in an entire region of the back,” she said. “Topical products are not as absorbent or emollient as carrier oils like coconut oil, which means that rather than aid in the touch and precision of the medical massage therapist, they may in fact sit on the skin and inhibit the intended effects.”
Additionally, topical products should not be used on clients whose skin is either particularly sensitive or has a buildup of natural oil from the skin, Bacharach noted.
Choose Medical Massage Topicals Carefully
Therapists who provide medical massage treat a special client population and share a passion for helping those with pain associated with a variety of medical conditions.
“I enjoy oncology massage because it means helping cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and those going through various treatments get through their journey,” Gonzales said. “A little bit of care goes a long way. The power of touch is healing — and that’s my gift to them.”
About the Author
Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage.