Seniors and the Benefits of Massage!

Aug 03, 2021

I was asked to do an article on the benefits of massage therapy, but these can be found anywhere on the net or off. But, then I rethought the topic and decided to give some studies on senior issues published by respected journals. To these, I will add some other perspectives from my

The benefits of massage are somewhat dependent on the therapists’ style, pressure, personal grooming habits, and personality, among other things. I have been massaged in a freezing office, nicked repeatedly by designer nails, massaged by someone who thought they were in a race, or oiled up so much no real work could be accomplished and touched so lightly it was
more like tickling.

I could not relax in any of these situations. Being annoyed at the situation negated any benefits that were intended. And, yes, I spoke up, but nothing really changed. My experience is that none of these therapists ‘heard’ me or knew how to respond. They had a routine, a habit, or a situation they refused to or perhaps didn’t know how to alter for their client.


Although I can’t recall the source, I read a study a few years back that clearly stated that the benefits of massage therapy were brought out best by at least a medium pressure being applied. To me, that makes sense because the muscles are actually being worked, affecting circulation and nerve conduction. Of course, not all clients can receive that much pressure if their health is compromised for any reason.

In 2012 the results of a study were published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork on hour-long massages on the elderly. The article was ‘Massage Therapy Produces Short-term Improvements in Balance, Neurological, and Cardiovascular Measures in Older Persons’ and it threw light on the massage benefits for seniors. 

I work with a lady over ninety as does an exercise specialist for the elderly. Between the two of us, she has improved her ability to walk on her own or with minimal aid from a walker. She is looking stronger and sounding better, too. Seeing improvement in clients of this age is an unexpected joy. 

In 2002 a study was done on fibromyalgia and massage. The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology as ‘Fibromyalgia Pain and Substance P Decreases, and Sleep Improves Following Massage Therapy’. Fibromyalgia clients have found their way to my practice since its inception. This multi-causal condition builds excess scar tissue in their muscles that massage can help to break up. But, each client tolerates different pressure, and different body areas may react quite differently to touch. 

Know, too, that you might get someone diagnosed with fibromyalgia that might actually have the differential diagnosis of myofascial pain syndrome. Medical treatment for the two problems is different, but the symptoms can seem the same. Look for referred pain (pain felt elsewhere in the body from where it is being touched) when working on your client as the differentiator for myofascial pain syndrome.

In 2000 the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies published the results of a study on high blood pressure. The results, ‘High Blood Pressure and Associated Symptoms Were Reduced by Massage Therapy’. This is why we have to be cautious when working on people who are on high blood pressure medications. 

If their medication is working to lower the pressure and our work lowers the pressure even further, our client could easily be groggy and uncoordinated when getting off our table. Safety is our first concern. Ending a massage for this person should be a gentle wake-up with a brisk massage or other work that brings them back to full orientation. Stay with the client as she transitions from lying to sitting, and from sitting to standing. Watch carefully and be prepared to assist, if needed.

In 2002 a study was released on Parkinson’s disease. The Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies published the results, ‘Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms Are Reduced by Massage Therapy, and Progressive Muscle Exercises’. Findings included improvements in daily activities and sleep.

I have had several Parkinson’s clients over the years. My first one was an M.D. His disease had progressed very rapidly, according to his wife. Having been an avid dancer, within 6 months of his diagnosis he was relegated to just observing from a wheelchair. Passionate and intelligent, he was someone I wish I had known before his illness. 

One client worked out to keep his muscles from tightening up and pulling his frame forward. Working the muscles, keeping them strong and stretched, had helped keep him in a more upright position. There is still the bending at the hips and the rounded shoulders with the forward neck and head, but all that had improved a bit from where it was before he began to fight the progression of the disease. 

He got some massage work at his adult day program. I got called when something was wrong or feeling worse than normal. He could use the massage table, but there were challenges occasionally when changing positions. His extremities were not as strong as he needed them to be to support his weight while turning. With his guidance, I assisted in this maneuver.

Lewy Body is a form of dementia that sometimes accompanies Parkinson’s disease. My client had that, too. Thankfully, it didn’t affect him too much, but it did for a while until he found the right medications. He had night terrors, seeing things that weren’t there in the dark. His behaviors limited the sleep he and his wife got, even if he were in another room. I worked on both of them during this time of stress. So, I hope you can see the real benefits massage can bring to those who need it most. 

Dr.Tiffany Fields out of the University of Miami has done much of the research in this field. You can access a list of research studies and publications of those study results here: touch-research/massage.html. Many other areas of massage research are listed here to inform you of the benefits in infants, the elderly, pregnant, and in so many conditions that have been studied.

Author’s Bio:

M.A. in Psychology. Many years working with the developmentally disabled as direct care to an administrator of two large group homes. She was a federal advocate for the state of Hawaii’s DD population before training in massage and specializing in seniors and the disabled.

Author of “The SPIRIT Method of Massage for Seniors: Raising the Bar...A Primer for Massage Therapists and Caregivers”

Don't Use The V-Word

Do you mind my asking you how old you are?" Linda, in her early 70's, doesn't identify as a "senior" - at least not in the context that most people think of it.

Published by James Lee

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