Massage and reflexology are two relaxing modalities used at Nathan Adelson Hospice but not too many people know the difference. The easiest way to explain it is that massage therapists work the musculature of the body and can work all over. For our hospice patients, they use long, slow strokes with light pressure whenever that’s possible. If necessary, they can adjust the stroke for specific areas as requested. For example, perhaps the patient has a PICC line on the arm that’s aching or a dressing on tense shoulders. Neither of those things would prevent the therapist from working to help you; they would only cause her to adjust her methods.
The reflexologist works on either the patient’s feet or hands (sometimes both) and uses specific thumb and finger techniques to access the reflexes to nerves. Nerves travel all over the body and end up in the extremities – feet and hands – so it only requires working on the nerve reflexes to be able to influence the areas of the body where the patient is feeling discomfort. Sometimes the patient is afraid you will inadvertently come to close to an area that’s painful for them so they like the idea of “distance” work.
Take, for instance, the patient who has chronic low back pain but is no longer able to sit up or roll sideways. The massage therapist would have a hard time helping relieve this discomfort but the reflexologist, by accessing the nerves on the soles of the feet that travel back to the lumbar area, can work on those reflexes without touching the back. This means the patient is still able to receive some relief without having to worry about moving.
On the other hand, touch is a very powerful thing and many patients prefer to have the area of discomfort touched directly. There’s just nothing quite like a good shoulder massage, is there? The bottom line is that both modalities have their place in hospice care and serve to assure the patients and families that you don’t have to be able to stretch out on a table in order to get good care and relief from discomfort.
At Nathan Adelson Hospice, we have a massage therapist who works both in-patient units and also sees homecare patients and a reflexologist who works in the in-patient units.