Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects roughly 7.5 million Canadians, over one fifth of the population. The majority of sufferers are over 65 years of age, though children as young as six have been known to have high blood pressure.
Hypertension is often treated by medications such as diuretics and ACE inhibitors, and sufferers can also help reduce hypertension by exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding stress. In recent years, medical professionals have also begun recommending massage therapy treatments to hypertension patients, as studies have shown its effectiveness in both reducing high blood pressure in patients with pre-existing hypertension, and as a holistic, preventative treatment for those with pre-hypertension blood pressure measurements.
Blood pressure is the force exerted by blood against the arteries as it circulates through the body, forming capillaries to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your organs. Doctors measure blood pressure in two forms: systolic, which is the level of pressure when the blood is pumping, and diastolic, the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats. Measurements are taken in millimeters of mercury, with the systolic number first, followed by the diastolic.
During their integrated sciences courses, registered massage therapist college students learn that readings below 120/80mm are considered normal, while readings above 120/80 but below 140/90 are considered pre-hypertensive. Patients whose blood pressure is consistently above 140/90 are considered to have hypertension, meaning there is too much pressure in the blood vessels. This causes damage to the arteries which can lead to stroke, heart problems, kidney disease, and even dementia.
Because massage can increase blood circulation, which can increase intra-vascular pressure, RMTs need to be cautious in treating clients with hypertension. Increasing already heightened intra-vascular pressure can cause blood vessels to rupture. Therefore, once you become a registered massage therapist, it’s important to ensure that any patients suffering from hypertension consult their physician before treatment.
However, this doesn’t mean that hypertension sufferers should avoid massage therapy. Studies have shown that, while massage therapy increases circulation, relaxing strokes concurrently dilate blood vessels. The combined effect is relieved tension in the body, contributing to reduced blood pressure. Massage therapy is only a risk if the patient’s hypertension is not controlled, although RMTs should still choose gentler modalities with these patients rather than using intense or potentially painful treatments.
Swedish massage has been shown to be among the most effective methods for reducing hypertension, with one study showing significant reductions in blood pressure levels in patients for up to 72 hours after treatment.
Another technique students learn during registered massage therapist training that can be beneficial to hypertension sufferers is myofascial trigger point therapy, with studies showing significant reductions in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure in patients, as well as decreases in muscle tension and heart rate. Other gentle techniques such as cranial-sacral therapy can also be beneficial.
Massage therapy in general has been shown to not only help reduce blood pressure in patients suffering from hypertension, but also help with associated symptoms, such as feelings of depression and hostile behaviour, as well as decreasing urinary and salivary cortisol levels. Used correctly, it can be a vital part of treatment for patients looking to manage hypertension.
Are you interested in learning more about how massage therapy reduces hypertension? Visit OVCMT for more information or to speak to an advisor.