Breast Health ~ Breast Massage

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 2:21 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)

Breast Health – Breast Massage
by Mary Kathleen Rose, CMT

We live in a culture of mixed messages about the female breast. Breasts are to be admired and breasts are to be feared. Breasts are beautiful, the symbol of a woman’s sexuality, femininity and ability to nurture. Breasts are a site of pain and life threatening disease. Beginning at an early age the woman wonders, “ Am I attractive?” Seeing the images and hearing the voices in the culture the woman asks, “Are my breasts the right size and shape?” But breasts are also the site of discomfort as well as major disease leading many women to live in fear of their own breasts. “What is this pain I feel? Is this lump serious? Will I be next?”

Many social, cultural and medical issues arise in a discussion about women’s breasts. Of course we all know that the basic biological function of the breasts is to nurture a growing child. But few women spend more than a small percentage of their lives performing this function. And yet our breasts are a part of us, carrying the messages, stories and emotions of a lifetime. Changes in the breast reflect stages of growth in one’s life, from the budding breasts of a young girl, to the feelings of sensuality, the experiences of monthly cycles, the times of breastfeeding, the awareness of breasts dictated by fashion and the issues related to health.

Often the dictates of fashion and culture, lifestyle and morality are at odds, perpetuating the mix of messages a woman responds to in her lifetime. The importance of breast size and shape to a woman’s sense of attractiveness is reflected in the ever increasing rate of cosmetic surgery of the breast. “I felt so much more confident and attractive after the surgery.” Yet the puritanical influences of culture and religion still govern as nursing mothers are made to feel “indecent” if they feed their baby in a public setting.

Mainstream medicine teaches the importance of early detection and treatment of breast disease. Women are told to do a monthly self-exam, but few are ever shown by a health professional what that exam should entail. Many women have told me that they seldom do a self-exam, because they don’t really know what they are looking for, or they are frightened by what they might find.

Most women have little or no knowledge of the functional anatomy of their own breasts. I think it is ludicrous to give a woman a little card explaining the importance of doing an exam, without first giving her a lesson in the structure and function of the breast.

The real problem with the dominant medical and media approach to breast health is that it is based in fear. Rather than encouraging women to know and appreciate their own breasts, the system teaches women to fear and mistrust their own bodies as they are told to be on the lookout for what is wrong with them. So women feel disconnected and powerless. The television advertising of a major health maintenance organization, targeting the female audience, had this to say: “Is your health in the right hands? Is your health in the hands of doctors?”

Is there a better way? I think so. While I do believe that modern medicine has an essential role is maintaining health and treating disease, I think that women (as well as men) need to be educated about their bodies and take personal responsibility for nurturing and fostering health in their own bodies. In a humorous and engaging manner, The Breast Cancer Society of Canada puts out a positive message in this television ad: A group of young men offer to do breast exams. They sit on a couch waiting for their bank of telephones to ring. As they sit in silence, the message comes onscreen to the viewing audience: “They’re your breasts. You do it. Examine your breasts monthly.”

But a monthly breast exam is not enough. Women need to be empowered through education, knowledge and experience. In my work with women I strive to help them understand the anatomy and physiology of their breasts. I use charts, diagrams and models, as well as teach them various techniques for self-massage. In this atmosphere they learn to appreciate the various structures they are feeling.

The benefits of self massage go far beyond a cursory monthly self-exam. The massage actually helps encourage the flow of lymph through the tissues, giving greater resiliency to the breast tissue. It is great for the skin, as well as being soothing to the nervous system.
In her excellent book, Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way, Susun S. Weed says “Regular, loving touching of our breasts allows us to recognize normal breast changes without fear, and gives us time to respond thoughtfully to abnormal changes.” Self-massage does not negate the need for regular periodic professional exams. Nor does it negate the appropriate use of medical intervention when necessary. But it does empower the woman to be the primary caretaker of her own body. As she is informed and actively involved in her healthcare, she is in the best position to make decisions about her own body.

As a certified massage therapist I have worked with many women over the years who have experienced the range of issues associated with breast discomfort and disease. Some simply need the nurturing of generalized massage to relax and enjoy relief from stress in their lives. But I have also found a place for very specialized therapeutic massage techniques to help women cope with a variety of concerns related to their breasts. Massage of scar tissue can help alleviate pain after surgery, giving greater pliability to the tissues.

Manual lymph drainage is soothing and effective in encouraging proper lymph drainage of the upper torso. The breast and axillary regions are very rich in lymphatic tissue which can be compromised by surgery and/or radiation. Pregnant women and nursing mothers have benefited from specific work to ease the pain of changing or lactating breasts.

Therapeutic breast massage can alleviate the pain that some women experience during their monthly cycles and it can be used to help women with healthy breasts stay healthy. It can be a way of teaching and encouraging them to do self-massage.

One woman who had been experiencing very painful breasts in her third month of pregnancy, made this comment after receiving therapeutic breast massage: “I feel great. It feels like my breasts are a part of me now. I feel more integrated in my body.” Another woman, who had experienced chronic stinging pain in her breasts, said she felt wonderful after one session, and that the pain had not returned in several weeks. A woman, who acknowledged that she had always had emotional issues about her body, said the breast massage made her feel more comfortable with her breasts and her body. “It felt safe and made me feel okay with myself.”

The techniques I use and teach are very gentle, non-invasive and respectful of the individual needs of women. In this work specific protocols are followed. Clear intention, communication and consent are vital concerns. Overall my commitment is to give women the knowledge and skills to inspire, support and empower them to take responsibility for their own health care. A combination of self-care, coupled with the support of knowledgeable healthcare providers and medical assistance when necessary should inspire women to feel empowered. It is time to release the mask of fear that has for too long clouded the issue of breast health.

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