Massage Therapy for Seniors

Alternative therapies are gaining ground in the American medical system. In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University indicated that about 70 percent of older adults use some form of alternative medicine. Massage therapy is one of the more popular of these treatments. However, many older people are still reluctant to incorporate massage into their lifestyles. This is unfortunate. More and more research is showing that massage can be particularly helpful for seniors. It can improve conditions ranging from chronic pain to a general sense of malaise, and for healthy individuals it can make it much easier to start or continue regular exercise. If you are among those who have toyed with the idea of exploring massage therapy, but have shied away, it’s worth it to take a closer look at what you can expect from massage and how you can go about taking the first steps toward integrating massage into your wellness routines.

First, let’s get the big issue out of the way: a lot of people are resistant to the idea of massage because they think that it is synonymous with being naked in front of a total stranger. For many people who didn’t grow up in the show-your-underwear generation (and even some of those who did), the prospect of being deprived of your clothes around someone you don’t know can be understandably disquieting, but rest assured. A good massage practitioner will not push you to do anything that you’re not comfortable with-and that includes undressing. You can leave as much clothing on as you want. If comfortable means you don’t want to take anything off at all, simply let the massage therapist know and he or she will adapt to your needs.

That being said, keep in mind that massage tends to be most effective when the person doing the massaging is able to directly manipulate the soft tissues of the body, and if you do decide to go “the full monty” you will not only be given privacy when you remove your clothing, you’ll be given a great big sheet to cover up with. Alternatively, a hand or foot massage can target areas that often need a boost in circulation. If you really can’t get used to the idea of someone else massaging you, learning some self-massage techniques can give you many of the benefits of massage without requiring you to expose as much as a sock to anyone else.

And massage has a lot of benefits, especially as we age and our circulatory system begins to lose some efficiency. Massage increases blood and lymph circulation, which can help nutrients get to muscle tissue and increase medication absorption rates. The mental and physical improvements resulting from regular massages can include increased flexibility, a sense of well-being, relief from aches and pains, better sleep, and even higher skin temperatures. Plus, adding massage to an exercise regime can make keeping active more comfortable by keeping muscle and connective tissue limber. It has also been reported that massage can help the body process and remove toxins in the bloodstream.

Some of the problems people often turn to massage for help with include arthritis, back pain, circulation problems (like Raynaud’s syndrome), and high blood pressure. Regular massage work can function as an effective supplement, or even alternative, to pricey medications, and may even be covered by medical insurance plans.

Massage treatments are offered in a wide variety of environments. Many licensed massage practitioners work in clinic-type settings, but you can also find therapists working in spas, hotels, and sports clubs. In addition, many massage therapists will make at-home visits. Massage in your home environment not only eliminates the need for travel, but can also increase the effectiveness of the treatment by making you feel more secure and relaxed.

Try to find a practitioner who has specific training in massage for elderly or geriatric patients. Most seniors will need a lighter touch and shorter sessions (around 30 minutes) than are used in a traditional massage session. A good massage therapist will ask you a lot of questions before beginning work on you. The therapist will want to know what prompted you to get a massage, what aches and pains you are experiencing, what sort of injuries you have or have had, whether you have any allergies, and what medications you are taking, among other things.

Your doctor may be able to recommend a therapist with experience working with older people, and can also help you to determine whether massage treatment is covered under your medical insurance. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) offers a free massage therapist locator service, which can be accessed at or by calling 888-THE-AMTA. In addition, local senior centers, libraries, and massage schools often have programs meant to introduce older people to the benefits of massage.
Please remember, as with any new health regime, it important to check with your doctor before beginning a course of massage therapy, especially if you are seeking treatment for a specific ailment.

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