Most people are aware of the benefits of massage therapy for soft tissue pain and stress management. Massage can also provide cardiovascular benefits, particularly for the management of mild hypertension. High blood pressure is a significant risk factor in cardiovascular disease and is known as the “Silent Killer”.
A study published in 2000 by J. Bodywork & Movement Therapies compared the effects of massage therapy and progressive muscle relaxation on blood pressure. Massage was more effective at lowering blood pressure, especially diastolic. Both groups reported less anxiety but only the massage group experienced reduced depression.
A 2013 randomized control trial compared whole body Swedish massage with resting, one hour weekly for 4 weeks, on Malaysian women with hypertension. Both massage and resting improved blood pressure and heart rate, but the massage reduced it more (but the difference was not statistically significant), and for a longer time – up to 4 weeks (which was significant).
Another 2013 clinical trial compared neck & shoulder massage (10-15 minutes 3 times a week for 10 sessions) and rest in 50 pre-hypertensive women in Iran. Massage reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure significantly more than just rest, and the effects lasted at least 3 days after the treatment.
These studies (and others) suggest that massage therapy could be a useful tool in managing mild hypertension and pre-hypertension, however some cautions are in order [Massage Therapy – an Approach to Treatments, Fiona Rattray, 1994]. When working with clients with severe hypertension a massage therapist will use certain techniques and avoid others. The goal is to increase peripheral circulation (hands and feet) while avoiding movement of blood towards the trunk. The use of heat and painful techniques are contraindicated. Ideally the client’s blood pressure should be measured before and after the treatment to monitor its effects.
If your doctor is concerned about your blood pressure, ask her/him about massage therapy as a possible management tool. Here is Dr Brent Bauer of the Mayo Clinic speaking about the benefits of massage.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.