A fascinating US study published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork revealed that therapeutic massage can make a significant positive impact on the physical and psychological well-being of the elderly. The two-part study focused on some common problems associated with the elderly, including fall prevention and cardiovascular health.
The risk and fear of falling can cause serious problems for the elderly. Falling can greatly affect an ageing person’s health through injury, pain and increased medical costs. Falls can also have a psychological impact, with the development of fear and uncertainty about physical activity.
Falls don’t ‘just happen’ to older people. Falls are prevalent in the older demographic for several reasons including:
- muscle tightening, atrophy and weakening
- decreased range of movement in the joints
- muscle imbalances due to inactivity
- reduced ability to balance
Researchers at Auburn University and Samford University in Alabama, USA set out to explore whether they could prevent the risk of falls for aged people by using therapeutic massage to improve muscle balance, function and activation, along with improving cardiovascular measures.
It was thought that the potential improvements to health could provide elderly individuals with more long-term stability and increased cardiovascular function. If this could be achieved, the benefits would also include reduced incidence of falls, increased confidence, greater activity levels and more independence.
The study was conducted with 35 adults ranging between 50 to 69 years of age. Excluded were people with chronic diseases or possible interfering medications. Participants were given weekly one hour-long full body massages for six weeks. Another control group was left to relax in the treatment room for the same period. Assessments were carried out on both groups to record balance, motor neuron excitability, muscle activation, heart rate and blood pressure.
After the six-week period was completed, researchers were confident to announce that certain findings were “fairly robust”. Contrary to previous studies (and hopes), the massage therapy did not appear to improve any cardiovascular measures straight after treatment. However, assessment of balance and postural control did reveal improvements immediately after treatment in the massage therapy group.
The great outcomes of this study were the noticeable improvements in balance that were evident in participants receiving the massage treatment after week seven of the trial. In addition, lower systolic blood pressures were also recorded by week seven.
The research group did document a few failings in their study design that may have impacted on the results. If researched again, some conditions would have to be considered, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or osteoarthritis. They concluded that a larger study would be required with a wider variety of participants for more clarification.
Scientists concluded that therapeutic massage could be a positive, non-pharmaceutical option for the elderly that enhanced postural stability and lowered blood pressure, both short-term and long-term. A related reduction in the incidence of falls is a very likely outcome, but one that would require further evidence based research. In the interim, however, this study is good news for massage therapists and their elderly clients. As we all know, the benefits of massage extend beyond just feeling great, no matter what the age group!
Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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