Massage Therapy for Older Adults

Massage therapy for older adults helps improve balance

Massage therapy for older adults is a promising way to help them retain health and independence.

Older adults who received an hour-long massage once a week for six weeks showed significant improvements in balance, neurological and cardiovascular measures. In the recent study, 35 volunteers were randomly assigned to the massage group or a control group.

Those who received massage therapy had lower blood pressure and more stability immediately after the sessions, an hour after and even a week after the regimen ended.

The participants were healthy volunteers aged 58 to 68 who were recruited through brochures and posters in medical offices, libraries, stores, fitness facilities and by word-of-mouth in and around Birmingham, Alabama. People with a history of chronic disease that affected balance, heart health or nervous system function were not eligible to participate.

Each person in the treatment group received a standard, 60-minute massage therapy protocol once a week for six consecutive weeks. The study, published in 2012, is especially significant because most prior research examined the effects of a single session.

Older adults need options to help them stay independent and active, and massage may be a great non-pharmaceutical approach. Falls, many of them debilitating if not fatal, occur in one of every three adults 65 and older. Health care costs associated with falls alone are expected to reach $32 billion by 2020, according to a 2009 study.

Multiple factors contribute to falls among older adults, including visual system influences, balance impairment, and cardiovascular and neurological conditions. Falls break hips and arms, cause head injuries, and contribute to decline in quality of life.

Even bruising and emotional trauma from a fall can make someone more hesitant – and lack of confidence can compound the risk of additional incidents. Trying to compensate for muscle imbalances, pain and new or old injuries often actually cause the fall.

We already know massage therapy reduces pain and improves clients’ sense of well being. This study suggests that regular massage for older adults can do far, far more.

The study by JoEllen M. Sefton, Ceren Yarar and Jack W. Berry, Neuromechanics Research Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, Auburn University, AL, and Department of Psychology, Samford University, Birmingham, AL, was published in the September 2012 issue of the InternatIonal Journal of TherapeutIc Massage and Bodywork.

massage for fibromyalgia

Massage for Fibromyalgia brings relief

Fibromyalgia is a frustrating syndrome.

People with fibromyalgia suffer from generalized pain, rigid joints and at times overwhelming fatigue. Performing basic activities becomes difficult. Trigger points, or areas of intense tenderness, make matters worse, both physically and emotionally. Depression, with or without anxiety, is common.

Massage therapy for fibromyalgia symptoms makes intuitive sense but research backs the approach as well. Studies show myofascial release therapy can be especially helpful in relieving symptoms. In it, therapists palpate, pull and stretch soft tissue known as fascia that surrounds and separates muscle layers. Circulation increases and contracted muscles relax.

In a 2010 study, 64 myofascial patients were assigned to one of two groups. In one, patients received 90-minute weekly treatments for 20 weeks. In the second, patients received “sham” treatments -30 minutes with a magnetic therapy machine that was disconnected. They did not know the treatments were fake.

Researchers evaluated myofascial therapy’s effects on pain, anxiety, and quality of sleep and depression in fibromyalgia patients. Measurements at baseline, after 20 weeks and six months following the treatments showed myofascial therapy provided significant benefits.

The patients in that group experienced  improved sleep and quality of life and reduced anxiety and pain — both immediately following the treatments and up to one month after. Six months after therapy, patients continued to report improvements in sleep.

The benefits did not extend to the control group.

The study was led by Adelaida Maria Castro-Sánchez at the University of Almería in Almería, Spain. She led a similar study in 2011 that examined more closely how fibromyalgia patients respond to massage therapy and found reductions in pain sensitivity to their pain, including some improvements that lasted as long as a year after the study was over.

Myofascial release is an effective alternative and complementary therapy for patients with fibromyalgia. Research as well as our own experience in Nashville with massage for fibromyalgia suggests regular sessions can make day-to-day living less painful, and more enjoyable. Watsu for fibromyalgia also is quite effective. Warm water alone helps our clients relax but gentle manipulations with a Watsu therapist can reduce pain and fatigue.

We’d love to tell you more.

Research Highlight: Massage for knee arthritis eases pain

Cartilage is our friend.

Protective cartilage on the ends of our bones cushions the bones and allows easy movement. Over time, though, this firm yet slippery tissue wears down, and the rough surface creates friction. Friction creates pain. The pain intensifies when cartilage breaks down entirely and bone rubs on bone.

This is the most basic definition of osteoarthritis, which is also known as wear-and-tear arthritis and degenerative arthritis. Not surprisingly, it develops most often in joints we use a lot: hands, neck, lower back, hips and knees.

We commonly see clients with joint pain, inflammation, and connective tissue conditions. We also see many clients who have rheumatic conditions such as gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis has no cure; treatment is about managing symptoms of pain and stiffness and increasing range of motion. A new study suggests a massage regimen for knee osteoarthritis helps decrease pain and improve function.

The study is especially important because the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, funded the research.

The findings? Weekly massage for knee arthritis decreased pain and stiffness and increased functionality for at least 16 weeks after the massages ended, according to a 2012 study.

In the study, 125 adults with osteoarthritis of the knee were assigned to eight-week regimens that included usual care with no massage, 30-minute massages once or twice week, and 60-minute massages once or twice a week. Baseline metrics included participants’ ratings of pain, based on an accepted arthritis index; range of motion and time to walk 50 feet.

Massage therapists involved followed protocols for techniques and massage strokes to be used on specific body regions to keep treatment patients received as uniform as possible.

People in the group that received massage for knee arthritis demonstrated “significant improvement” over baseline at weeks 16 and 24. Researchers found the people who received 60-minute massages once a week reported the greatest reduction in pain.

At our practice we’ve successfully treated cases of osteoarthritis and pain associated with rheumatic conditions by reducing pain, increasing range of motion, restoring function, and decreasing the need for NSAIDs and other pain medications.

The study, “Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized dose-finding trial,” was originally published in PLoS One. 2012; 7(2):e30248.

acupressure improves sleept

Research Highlight: Acupressure Improves Insomnia

A simple acupressure intervention, pressure applied to a point on each wrist, improved sleep for residents with insomnia in a long-term care facility during a five-week study.

The study involved 50 residents of two facilities in Taiwan who were randomly assigned to a control group or an acupressure group. Four assistants were trained to provide acupressure. Those in the control group received light touch with no pressure on both wrists. Those in the acupressure for insomnia group received pressure at the HT7 point, also known as the Shenmen point, for five seconds, then a second of rest, for five minutes.

Participants in the acupressure group reported no insomnia symptoms from week three to week six. They only received acupressure through week five. Even at week seven, their insomnia scores remained lower than their baseline levels.

Acupressure is part of traditional Chinese medicine and is gaining broader popularity as a therapy with well-supported benefits. The mechanism may involve bioelectrical energy, and Western science has shown that specific acupoints have a higher electrical conductivity that surrounding areas.

Insomnia is one condition that responds well to acupressure. In the Taiwan study, before receiving therapy, participants rated eight measures – including difficulty falling asleep, awakenings during the night and sleepiness during the day – to establish their baselines. They rated the same measures weekly for seven weeks.

Benefits lasted two weeks after acupressure therapy ended, and participants’ insomnia gradually returned to what it had been before the study. Still, the study has significant implications. Caregivers and clients themselves can be taught to deliver wrist acupuncture, a non-invasive intervention that can improve both the depth and quality of sleep.

We use acupressure in combination with massage techniques. Applying pressure to specific locations on the body helps stimulate the body’s own natural healing processes. The action of Acupressure at HT 7 (Shen Men), also known as “spirit gate,” will tonify deficiencies of the heart, qi, yin, yang, and blood,. These are related to emotional issues such as ruminating and muddled thinking as well as physical responses to stimuli, anxiety, heart palpitations, and irregular heartbeat.

The Taiwan acupressure study was originally published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, 2010, Vol. 47, pages 798-805.