By Anita J. Shannon, Director of ACE, LMBT, CMCE Originally published in Massage Today, January, 2016, Vol. 16, Issue 01
The last two years revealed some amazing experiences as we delved deeper into breast care and surgical applications using vacuum therapies. In 2015 I organized two practicum programs, where graduates came to work on clients who have had issues around breast health such as fibrocystic and dense breast tissue, and surgeries such as lumpectomies, mastectomies, breast augmentations and reductions.
Therapy goals are unique to each individual, and because results are apparent very soon into the series of treatments, it is exciting to participate in their progress and healing, as well as observe the impact on their lives.
A client who participated in our first breast health and surgical program came to us with great hesitation. I watched her arrive in the parking lot and turn her car off, then back on, three times. She finally came into the center and sat nervously in a chair. When it came time for us to interview her, she was very uncomfortable, yet was finally able to share her story.
Fifteen years ago, she went in for breast reduction surgery and came out with the equivalent of a double mastectomy. One of her breasts became infected and for eight months she had to change and pack in new dressings daily. She described how she needed to mentally and emotionally separate herself from the procedure and not look in the mirror as she did the work. The pain, restriction and emotional scars stayed with her, affecting her work as a seamstress and her family relationships. She had some follow up surgery and physical therapy, but never quite felt like herself again.
We approached her very gently in her first session, starting her on her side, then prone to introduce the therapy and address the impact of her condition on her back. When she turned over, we did light lymphatic drainage and then worked over the surgical sites using the large cone-shaped cups and a gentle pumping mode on the machine. She became more animated as the treatment continued, and even smiled a few times.
On her second day with us, we again addressed her back and neck, and then began to work on the scar tissue at the surgical sites, using small cups to pinpoint our work. We always make sure the treatments are comfortable for the client, and she reported that she was enjoying the work and that she could now sense our touch in areas where she could not feel anything before. Her conversation became very lively and she stayed for a while after her treatment, talking with other clients.
On her third day, she came in with a big smile and showed us a remarkable increase in range of movement. Her daughter had come with her and looked at us in amazement. As her mother went in to get ready for her session, her daughter explained that she had to come and check on what we were doing. She had seen such an element of joy coming back to her mother and explained how hard it had been to watch the surgical experience 15 years ago change her. She came into the treatment room and watched our work, staring at her mother as she laughed and joked with us.
The incredible impact that a few gentle 45 minute treatments can have on so many levels is rewarding. The emotional release can be intense, and we were fortunate to have a psychologist at the practicum session as a client. She was able to become a great resource after the session for those who needed any assistance with the impact of the treatments.
In medical massage applications, it is important to be aware of the multi-dimensional effects of our work. For many women who have had breast health issues and/or procedures done on the breasts, the aftermath and recuperation have left an indelible impression on their lives. Be it pain, restriction or disfigurement, it can be gently treated for the fullest recovery and healing, even after many years.
These conditions respond very well to many forms of bodywork and a synergistic approach that integrates vacuum therapies produces optimal results. Successful massage practitioners bring all their other knowledge and skills together to create the ultimate treatments for common conditions such as breast health issues and surgical applications.