Thrive by IU Health

April 11, 2022

Small ball offers big relief for infusion patients

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Small ball offers big relief for infusion patients

It’s smaller than a tennis ball, but this “therapy” packs a powerful punch for infusion patients.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

Every three weeks Jane Lees visits IU Health Simon Cancer Center where she receives intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIg). While she waits for the treatments to pump through her veins she enjoys a foot massage provided by IU Health massage therapist Michelle Bailey.

Massage is one of the complimentary therapies offered by IU Health’s CompleteLife Program, a program that attends to the body, mind and spirit of the whole person.

In addition to massage therapy, the CompleteLife Program offers art, music, and yoga therapy.

Jane Lees

Lee’s recent visit included something else – a neon orange ball. Marketed as a child’s toy, the object – smaller than a tennis ball – helps relieve Lee’s neuropathy, caused by her infusions. Like many patients at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, Lee relies on her treatments to help with her disease. But one of the side effects is a weakness, numbness, tingling and pain in her hands and feet. That’s where the little orange ball comes in.

“I was looking for a way to help each patient who has neuropathy get more consistent treatment. I talked to a fellow oncology massage therapist who offered her patients these balls as an add-on for massage therapy,” said Bailey. What costs about the same as a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy, can provide needed relief to patients at home. CompleteLife staff purchased the balls – in a variety of colors – and are tracking patients and measuring the results.

Lees was among the first of the patients to try the therapy.

Under the care of IU Health neurologist Dr. Richard Scheer and a team of interns, residents and researchers, Lees was diagnosed with a rare disease called, “Stiff Person Syndrome. The disease affects about one in a million people and predominately females between the ages of 30 and 60. A neurological disorder, the disease is similar to an autoimmune disease causing trunk and limb muscles to go rigid and spasm, and causing a heightened sensitivity to noise and emotional stress. Some researchers believe the disease can be focused on one area of the body or spread throughout the body – affecting the brain stem and spinal cord.

The IVIg infusions help offset her symptoms, but a side effect is the neuropathy – nerve damage.

Similar to a “stress ball” the squishy toy helps lubricate the joints and warms up the tissues, said Bailey. “I suggest patients find a comfortable way to use it and then focus on the movement of the fingers. There’s no right or wrong way,” said Bailey.

Some research suggests the exercise can promote new nerve cell growth and even reverse some of the effects from long-term neuropathy.

“I thought I’d try it because it was something new,” said Lees. Now she exercises with the ball two to three times a day. Along with the ball, Bailey gives each patient a card with a QR code that they can scan for a tutorial on how to use the ball.

“I use it more now out of need. When my hands feel cold, stiff or numb, I squeeze it in different positions,” said Lees. “I’ve even started rolling it over my toes. The warming sensation helps get rid of the prickly feeling. It really helps.”



Related Services