Massage therapy for hypertension: Alternative medicine can help

Massage therapy for hypertension: Alternative medicine can help

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a serious condition affecting about one in three adults in America, and two-thirds of people over 65. Because blood pressure is the amount of force that blood pumps through your arteries, the more blood the heart pumps, the narrower the arteries, and therefore the higher the blood pressure. Severe hypertension can cause:

  • Severe headache
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Visual disturbances
  • Seizure

Whether or not you take prescription medication to lower your blood pressure, it’s important to examine your diet and lifestyle – and make healthy choices. Also, ask your doctor about the range of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) that are available for addressing hypertension, and how to integrate them into your overall treatment plan.

Massage therapy is one of the most effective forms of CAM. It has been been shown to benefit people with high blood pressure cope with stress, which can potentially raise your blood pressure. Massages can help lower blood pressure and steroid hormones, which is an indicator of stress. Through mobilization of skin, connective tissues, muscle tissue, and the periosteum, a massage stimulates receptors helping to send messages of relaxation to your central nervous system. These reflexes cause vasodilation, which results in decreased blood pressure and heart rate.

Other research shows that massage lessens stress, depression and anxiety, and decreases pain associated with migraines, lower-back stress and fibromyalgia. Keep in mind that, whether you are getting a massage or adding herbs and supplements to your healthcare program, always consult with your healthcare provider first.


Do

Do practice good hygiene before getting a massage

Before you arrive for your appointment, shower with perfume-free soap and avoid wearing perfume or cologne. Massage therapists often use scented oils to enhance the massage with aromatherapy, and that bar of Dial soap or spritz of Chanel could conflict in an unpleasant way.

Do tell your massage therapist about any major surgeries or injuries you've had

It’s important that you provide your massage therapist with a thorough history of any injuries you’ve sustained or major surgeries you’ve undergone over your lifetime. This should include a detailed history of your hypertension diagnosis and treatment.

Hypertension may require massage modalities that are specially designed to encourage relaxation rather than intense and possibly painful techniques. Examples of modalities particularly suited for relaxation and hypertension include Swedish massage, craniosacral therapy and reflexology.

Do let your therapist know right away if something doesn’t feel right

While getting a massage is relaxing, you should remain vigilant to any unpleasant sensations in your body. Let your massage therapist know immediately to enable him or her to maximize the benefits of the massage, making it a beneficial experience rather than something to be endured.

Do think of massage as hitting the reset button on your health

People with circulatory issues and high blood pressure can gain many benefits with regular massage, as well as experiencing an improved nervous system from better regulated blood pressure and reduced stress. Massage stimulates the brain, where oxytocin is released to aid in reducing heart rate.

In order to improve your blood pressure, it is important to not only get regular massages, but also to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including quitting smoking, following a diet that is low in fat, salt and cholesterol, and getting regular exercise.

Do respect the massage therapist’s time

Arrive early for your appointment so that you have time to fill out paperwork and change into a robe – and ensure that you get the most out of your allotted time. Also, leave on time. No matter how tempting it might be to curl up on the massage table for a long nap, quality massage therapists have a full schedule and don’t want to keep other clients waiting.


Don't

Do not be less than forthright about your health

If your high blood pressure is not controlled, get permission from your healthcare provider prior to massage. What your massage therapist doesn’t know can hurt you. You must give him or her the ability to choose the right modality so that you get the best possible results from the experience – without adding undue stress on you.

Do not ignore the risks

The net result of massage’s simultaneous circulation enhancement and vessel dilation is a reduction in body tension and blood pressure. The danger of enhanced circulation is typically only dangerous when a person’s blood pressure is not controlled, requiring your healthcare provider to give permission.

Do not get a massage if you are sick or have a contagious condition

First of all, you don’t want others to catch you illness, including the massage therapist who is a position of spreading it to a number of other people. Secondly, massage can greatly worsen the symptoms of a virus or cold. Please call the massage therapist to explain your situation and need to reschedule.

Do not bring body image anxiety

Like your healthcare provider, massage therapists have worked with individuals who have every body type and size -- without judgment. Their focus is on optimizing your experience and benefiting your overall health and wellness, not on your unshaved legs, calloused feet or that extra layer of fat. Never apologize, just relax.

Do not drink alcohol 24 hours before the massage

Massage increases the effects of alcohol, acting as a stimulant or as a sedative on the mind and body:

  • improving the removal of toxins and metabolic waste, as well as disperse nutrients more effectively throughout the body because of improved circulation
  • stimulating activity of the liver and kidneys
  • increasing production of neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin
  • decreasing the production of cortisol (produced when under stress)

Therefore, combining massage therapy and alcohol only increases the toxic load on the body – and desensitizes a person to pain, while clouding judgment.


Summary
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Smoking, drinking alcohol in excess, bad eating habits, stress, overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle are all factors that have been associated with high blood pressure. High blood pressure can quietly damage your body for years before symptoms develop. If unnoticed or uncontrolled, it can lead to other health problems such as disabilities, poor quality of life or even fatal heart attacks or strokes.

Fortunately, natural remedies and lifestyle changes can play a role in lowering high blood pressure and reducing stress and the risk of life-threatening complications. Adults with hypertension should strive to reduce their stress level in order to prevent rises in blood pressure. Massage therapy addresses high blood pressure in the long-term. However, massages increase blood flow, so it is advisable that you consult your doctor first. The therapeutic effects of massage are cumulative, so the more often you get a massage, the better you will feel and the more quickly your body will respond.


More expert advice about Heart Disease

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Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCBTMBOwner and Director The Central Florida School of Massage Therapy Inc.

Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCBTMB, owner and director, The Central Florida School of Massage Therapy Inc., and strategic industry expert, Massage Warehouse, has been a dedicated member of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association (FSMTA) for...

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