Karen Salisbury

Massage and its Potential for Stoma Patients

By Karen Salisbury

For over twelve years, I have had an interest in remedial massage. People are often too quick to take tablets for those pulls, pains and trapped nerves that we all experience. Patients sometimes wait months to recover from a minor injury that could have been remedied in just a few massage treatments. I’ve always wanted to qualify as a masseuse but have always found an excuse that’s stopped me from beginning the course. I work full time and I was unwell, leading to stoma surgery, so have struggled to find the right moment to begin the course.

It took a long time for me to gather the courage, but eventually, I signed up for a massage course. It started in September and ended in the following July. There was a three-day practical session every month accompanied by home study and coursework. I also had to get practical experience and read up on some case studies, all alongside my day job!

During one training session, we focussed on hip and thigh massage. Since having an ileostomy, I’d used yoga to regain my mobility, but I still struggled with certain movements. In that session, I discovered that the cause of this was a tight inner thigh muscle. To treat the muscle, the therapist presses down on the area and asks the patient to rate the pain from 1-10. If treatment is required, the therapist continues to press, and the pain should reduce. Two of the other students carried out the treatment for me. I have had two abdominal surgeries, so I have experienced my fair share of pain, and I rated the muscle treatment a 9.5! After the treatment, I could sit with my legs crossed, which I hadn’t been able to do since my surgery. There’s no miracle cure and I will need more treatments, but it taught me that I didn’t have to tolerate the stiffness I was experiencing.

Stoma Education

Because of my stoma, when I act as a patient for the students to complete their clinical assessment, they have the chance to treat someone who they might not meet in their everyday experiences. It makes the assessment more realistic, and it gives them some extra experience. The assessor checks that the students are aware of my stoma and ask the relevant questions before they begin the massage. He also has a patient who is an amputee and prefers to remove his prosthetic before treatment. The patients that the students meet will be varied, so it’s important they’re confident in dealing with any medical conditions they might encounter in their patients. I was able to educate people about stomas, and how stoma bag wearers are just like everyone else. One of the other students was already very familiar with the world of stomas because both of her parents had ostomies.

Lots of people are unsure about how massage can affect stomas. While I was on holiday, I was once refused a back massage because of my pouch. I had treatments before my surgery and as soon as I was fit enough, my therapist treated me after my surgery. You can definitely have massages if you have a stoma and you never know, your therapist might even have a stoma themselves!

After surgery, gentle massage can be used to reduce the risk of adhesions. The body creates adhesions, or scar tissues, when the muscle is damaged. At first, this will be doughy or sticky, which can cause organs or tissues to stick to one another. Massage helps to keep the adhesions moving and can break down scar tissue further into the healing process. The treatment of scar tissue is actually a common use of massage. My tutor commented that the relationship between post-surgery bowel blockages and massage would be interesting to study. I don’t think my surgeons will be letting me loose to massage their patients, but in the future, this could be worth researching.

I did the course because I was so interested in massage. Now I can safely treat friends and family, but I don’t have any plans to set up a business. I know I’m lucky to be in full-time employment, so being able to pursue my hobbies is an added bonus. Having an ostomy doesn’t have to hold you back – in fact, it can do the opposite.

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