Massage therapy can be beneficial if you have neuropathy — numbness, tingling or pain — in your hands and feet. This is particularly common in cancer survivors. Mary Beth Kealy, MSN, APNC, CCIT, E-RYT, a class facilitator and yoga instructor at Cancer Wellness, explains the benefits of hand and foot massage for neuropathy and how you can get the benefits at home.
Why does cancer treatment cause neuropathy?
“Chemotherapy can lead to hand and foot neuropathy in many people,” says Kealy. “The agents in chemotherapy tend to obstruct the capillaries in the fingers and toes, the furthest points in our circulatory system. Chemotherapy molecules can get stuck and clog up those areas, making blood flow difficult.”
When the nerve endings in the hands and feet don’t get enough oxygen nutrition from blood circulation, they become painful, sensitive, or numb, which can indicate neuropathy.
Massage for hand and foot neuropathy
“The best way to get the blood moving is massage,” she says. “The whole point is to try to increase circulation in the areas that might experience neuropathy.”
She notes that other activities — such as knitting and exercise — can stimulate blood flow in the body. This is because the more your muscles are moving, the better they can keep up blood circulation to nourish the nerve endings.
Even if you don’t have neuropathy, massage, exercise and knitting are beneficial for good circulation and may have a preventative effect.
Hand and foot massage “how-to”
If you have hand or foot neuropathy, Kealy says you can benefit from self-massage a few times a day. Because using your hands can be tiring, she suggests the following techniques:
Fill the bottom of a foot tub with marbles and water, and roll the bottoms of your feet along the marbles (consider adding a few drops of essential oils).
Massage your hands and feet with lotion.
Roll a tennis ball on the bottoms of your feet or a golf ball between your hands and fingers.
Trade hand or hand massages with a spouse, family member or friend.
“Massage is very empowering to do for yourself and to share with friends,” she says. “It’s something positive you can do for your body.”
Learn more about the benefits of massage for cancer survivors.