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
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 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
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 the inception. This multi-causal
condition builds excess scar tissue in their muscles that massage can help to break through.
But, each client tolerates different pressure, and different body areas may react quite differently
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 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
Safety is our first concern. Ending a massage for this person should be a gentle wake up with
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 in 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 prior to his illness.
My current client works out to keep his muscles from tightening up and pulling his frame
forward. Working the muscles, keeping them strong and stretched, has really 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 has improved a bit from where it was before he began to
fight the progression of the disease.
He gets some massage work at his adult day program. I get called when something is actually
wrong or feeling worse than normal. So far he can use the table, but there are challenges
occasionally when changing positions. His extremities are not as strong as he needs them to
be to support his weight while turning. With his guidance, I assist in this maneuver.
Lewy Body is a form of dementia that sometimes accompanies Parkinson’s disease. My client
has that, too. Thankfully, it doesn’t affect him too much currently, 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: www6.miami.edu/
touch-research/massage.html. Many other areas of massage research are listed here to inform
you of the benefits in infants, elderly, pregnant, and in so many conditions that have been
M.A. in Psychology. Many years working with the developmentally disabled as direct care to an
administrator of two large group homes. I was a federal advocate for the state of Hawaii’s DD
population before training in massage, and specializing in seniors and the disabled.