11/02/2017 Mind-Body Health
Breast health is a topic of grave concern for many women. One thing you may not have thought of doing to help keep your breasts healthy is therapeutic breast massage.
Breast health is too often ignored until after a problem arises. It’s an area of the body with powerful associations that sometimes makes women hesitant to seek care, despite the fact that the vast majority of them experience breast discomfort at some point. Whether it’s breast congestion, abnormalities such as lumps or cysts, diagnostic tests, or surgical procedures, any breast problem can create heightened anxiety and stress that can diminish overall health.
Although scientific studies are limited so far, anecdotal evidence suggests that these problems can be improved and possibly prevented with regular breast massage. Whether you massage yourself or seek out a certified therapist, breast massage can result in:
- Increased circulation of blood and lymph
- Reduced congestion in breast tissue
- Relief from mastalgia (breast pain)
- Improved posture
- Restored range of motion in the upper body
These physical improvements may provide huge psychological and emotional benefits, especially for those recovering from breast disease and the aftermath of invasive treatments.
Getting the Lymph Moving
Breasts are often compressed with sports bras, constrained by underwire, or enhanced with padding. This can restrict the flow of lymph, a clear liquid derived from blood that contains disease-fighting cells called lymphocytes. According to Debra Curties, RMT, a renowned expert in breast massage, the lymphatic system “is considered the most important factor in breast tissue drainage. It is widely speculated that chronic impairment of lymph drainage may be implicated in many breast health problems, including cancer.” (1)
Unlike blood, which is pumped by the heart, lymph doesn’t have a pump of its own and must be moved by either muscle contractions or manual pressure. Curties points out that breasts have no musculature of their own, “so the primary physiological aims of breast massage relate to enhancing circulation and drainage.” (2) Gentle massage helps clear lymphatic channels, increases circulation, and reduces uncomfortable congestion.
Improving Posture and Range of Motion
Therapeutic breast massage also loosens the tissues of the chest, shoulders, and neck, using a combination of deep-tissue massage techniques, movement, breathing, and stretching. Whether your breasts are healthy or compromised, every woman can benefit from this work, and it can be a powerful aid to healing after surgery or radiation therapy.
These procedures can leave uncomfortable scar tissue, adhesions, and muscle imbalances. Restricted movement, altered posture, and chronic pain often result. After medical clearance is given, a skilled therapist can release restrictions, which in turn can reduce or eliminate pain and improve range of motion.
What to Expect in a Treatment
Depending on local laws, you may need to get a doctor’s referral (even if you have healthy breasts) and sign a consent form before receiving breast massage treatments. Breast massage is not advisable in certain circumstances, especially during treatments that make breast tissues more delicate, such as tissue expansion or radiation. It is also contraindicated in any case of infection or for direct contact on any undiagnosed lump. (3) For this reason, medical clearance is vital in the presence of any breast disease or trauma.
The therapist will take time to go over your health history and goals for the session, assess your posture and range of motion, and answer any questions you may have. If you are not comfortable being treated with your breasts exposed, you can opt to wear a loose T-shirt or be fully draped with a sheet.
Many women are surprised to find that therapeutic breast massage involves very little direct contact with breast tissue, and none at all with the nipple or areola. It requires active participation at times, as the therapist guides you through breathing and assisted stretching. Gentle pressure and movement are used to release tight connective tissue, adhesions, and contracted muscles in the chest and shoulder areas.
Techniques used may include myofascial release, trigger-point therapy, manual lymphatic drainage, and vacuum therapy (cupping), just to name a few. Some practitioners, such as those who provide Ayurvedic breast massage, may also complement the treatment with soothing energy modalities to restore balance and flow in the body, and counteract anxiety.
Being comfortable with the process is vital to maximizing results, and clear, detailed communication with your therapist is necessary. Choose therapists who are experienced, have been certified or licensed within your state, and who have received specialized training in breast, oncology, and medical massage.
At the Chopra Center, we (our female therapists) perform Ayurvedic breast massage, providing a healing touch that is customized specifically for you—taking into account your mind-body type (dosha), medical history, and personal preferences. We provide a level of draping that feels comfortable for you, and work with you throughout the massage so you can take part in your own healing.
Taking Matters into Your Own Hands
Beyond professional breast massage treatments, you can take several preventive measures to maximize your breast health.
- Daily self-massage keeps lymph flowing and is particularly good for those who suffer from general breast congestion and pain. There are many different techniques, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just gently massage your breasts in a circular motion using your favorite (preferably organic) body oil, 30 times in each direction with the intent of moving the lymph toward the armpit. Then, cup the breast in two hands, gently pulling away from the body, and then pushing back in. Repeat this pumping motion several times on each breast.
- Adding essential oils to your massage oil can make the process even more potent. Cinnamon, frankincense, thyme, citrus, roman chamomile, and turmeric are some of the oils recommended for breast health.
- Use only natural deodorants. Combinations of natural ingredients such as baking soda, magnesium hydroxide, coconut oil, and/or essential oils can give effective odor protection without questionable chemicals. A good rule of thumb is, if you don’t want it in your body, don’t put it on your body.
- Avoid constrictive clothing around the breasts as much as possible. If you are a smaller-breasted woman who can do without underwire, or perhaps without a bra at all, you’re in luck. For those who must wear bras, seek support designs that don’t use underwire, don’t wear them any more than is absolutely necessary, and massage your breasts well after removing them. While there is no definitive scientific link as of yet between bras and breast disease, it makes sense to keep that cleansing lymph moving.
The first step is to talk to your doctor and be sure you can receive breast massage. Assuming the answer is “yes,” then you can decide whether you’d prefer to work on yourself or look for a therapist to assist you.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
- Curties, D., 1999, p. 28. Breast Massage. Moncton, N.B.: Curties-Overzet Publications
- Curties, 1999, p. 26
- Curties, 1999, p. 105
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