Massage therapy benefits seniors by improving both physical and mental health.
The health benefits of massage therapy for seniors include strengthening muscles and reducing tension on the joints. It also brings about a good night’s sleep, helps aid digestive issues, and can facilitate improved range of motion during the day. However, a better understanding and knowledge on how to do massage in the elderly is essential to make it more effective.
Massage therapy for seniors is based on individual medical conditions and varies in technique.
Health Benefits of Massage for Muscle Pain
Seniors often encounter muscle pain due to a decrease in muscle mass and increased sensitivity of the nerves related to inflammation. To reduce muscle pain, a single bilateral eccentric massage using the leg press is suggested. Through this massage technique, impairments of the upper extremity may get relieved and exertion-induced muscle injuries can be lessened. In one study, muscle pain was found to lessen after volunteers received vibration or massage therapy versus that of the standard treatment control group.1
Massage Benefits Foot Pain
Exercise and massage therapy for foot pain is said to be an effective technique in reducing the pain and improving functional status among seniors versus ultrasound therapy and exercise.2
Massage Therapy for Seniors with Knee Arthritis
Massage therapy and exercise group therapy are more effective and can bring about greater improvements in relieving arthritis pain rather that exercise programs alone. Chinese massage or moderate pressure massage is advised to patients with knee osteoarthritis and it is usually given three times per week for 15 days.3 Additionally, this kind of massage therapy has been shown to improve knee functioning and reduce stiffness.4
Massage Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Upper Limb Pain
Massage with trigger point therapy can help reduce pain and improve functional activities in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. These improvements were noted after two weeks of 30-minute massages, provided twice per week.5
Additionally, hand pain has been shown to be effectively reduced with proper massage therapy along with administration of analgesics, significantly improving grip strength.6 Patients who have undergone moderate pressure massage experienced benefits such as diminished pain, greater range of motion of their wrists and upper joints (elbows and shoulders), and greater grip strength.7
Massage Therapy for Seniors with Dementia
After two months of treatment, one study revealed that using massage and ear acupuncture had positive results in elderly patients with dementia. Moreover, it is believed that massage therapy and acupuncture have additional benefits such as the stimulation of pressure receptors, increased vagal activity, and a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol.8
Massage Therapy for Hypertension
A study involving 1,962 patients with hypertension found that massage can be an effective remedy to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure comparative to taking anti-hypertensive drugs.9
Benefits of Massage Therapy for Postmenopausal Women
Thai massage has shown to be effective in relieving postmenopausal symptoms. (There is more stimulation of pressure receptors observed with this type of massage.) Also, the use of aromatherapy during massage can effectively reduce psychological symptoms in postmenopausal women.10
Massage Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease
Massage therapy has been proven to decrease symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by relieving muscle stiffness, fatigue, pain, and movement difficulties. Furthermore, in longer applications of massage, movement speed was observed to be faster, stride length was increased, and shoulder flexion and abduction were enhanced.11
Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia
In a study involving moderate applications of Shiatzu and Swedish massage in patients with fibromyalgia, Shiatsu massage was found to diminish sleep disturbances, pain, and fatigue along with decreasing depression and anxiety. 12
Other health conditions that can benefit from massage therapy include:13
- Autoimmune conditions
- Breast cancer
- HIV infection
- Multiple sclerosis
- Pressure ulcers and other skin conditions
In summary, there are a plethora of proven health benefits of massage therapy for seniors. And, more studies are currently being done to prove the various therapeutic effects. One thing is for certain, health professionals can feel confident recommending massage therapy to their elderly clientele.
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- J Tradit Chin Med. 2013;33:461–467.
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- Man Ther. 2015;20:257–264.
- Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016;24:19-31.