Reducing High Blood Pressure with Massage Therapy – Something to Get Pumped Up About!
It is a known fact that massage improves circulation and blood flow. What most people don’t know is that one of the greatest benefits of massage therapy is that massage can positively affect hypertension or high blood pressure by lowering it. We’re not just talking about a temporary change in blood pressure while receiving a massage. There are recent studies that have proven that massage can actually lower blood pressure more long term.
Your blood vessels are actually made up of smooth muscle fibers that move together at one time to create a contraction or “pumping” action and then relax or dilate to allow the blood to flow. Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the blood vessel walls as it is pumped through the body. That force is recorded as a fraction (the top number) which is the systolic pressure that measures the force created by the heart pumping. The diastolic pressure (the bottom number) measures the force between beats of the heart. When arteries become hardened and narrowed because of plaque buildup, the blood has to squeeze through a smaller space, creating more force against the vessel walls. If the body retains fluid due to excessive salt intake or disease like lymphedema, the pressure in the arteries can increase even more. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that anyone with a blood pressure reading over 120/80 mmHg should take action to lower it.
Also, when the body is under stress, the adrenal glands in your kidneys produce an abundance of the stress hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol increases blood pressure to pump blood to muscles to “run away” from the perceived danger and diverts blood away from vital organs like the stomach in digesting or hormones for reproductive function. The body prioritizes the functions for survival and it reserves the valuable oxygen, nutrient rich blood to get you to “safety”. Once the stressor has disappeared, the body goes into repair mode and begins to secrete endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers and antidote to Cortisol, to aid in pain relief should you be injured in order to get you to safety. It also causes the blood to coagulate or clot so that in the event the stressor was actually something that caused harm, you would not bleed to death.
The ironic thing is that the very survival mechanism that we are born with for survival of life threatening dangers does not differentiate from work stress or real threats. The body responds the same regardless. Hence, your cardiovascular system is constantly barraged with daily stressors, which over time, wears out the blood vessels and the heart muscle. Add to that, high cholesterol, and you have a perfect storm for hypertension.
This is where the magic of massage comes into play. Remember those endorphins? After only 20 minutes of massage, the body begins to release those endorphins that relax the blood vessels, reduce the intensity of the heart pumping and shuts down the adrenals from producing more Cortisol. The blood flow is temporarily increased, carrying oxygen and nutrient-rich blood cells to aid in healing the body. It also helps release stagnant by-products and congestion of tissues from injuries or lack of circulation. Massage reduces the wear and tear on your body and mind.
Like exercise, when performed regularly, the body can be conditioned to circulate blood more efficiently, relax blood vessel walls and create a better sense of emotional well-being. Contraindications would include blood clots or internal bleeding. You should always check with your physician first if you have any health concerns before scheduling a massage.
Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that massage therapy can reduce blood pressure:
As early as 1999, researchers from the Touch Research Institute, the University of Miami School of Medicine and Nova Southeastern University in Florida conducted the study “High blood pressure and associated symptoms were reduced by massage therapy”. In this study, participants with controlled hypertension were randomly assigned to either a massage therapy group or a progressive relaxation group. Results showed that while both groups had lower anxiety levels and lower levels of depression, only the massage therapy group showed decreases in sitting diastolic and systolic blood pressure as well as cortisol stress-hormone levels.
Published in 2005, researchers at the University of South Florida tested the effects of a regularly applied back massage on the blood pressure of patients with clinically diagnosed hypertension. Based on significant point reductions in both systolic and diastolic pressure readings, researchers concluded that regular massage lowers blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Massage, when combined with an overall plan (diet, exercise and in some cases, medication) can help reduce the risk of both heart disease and stroke. It can also help keep muscle from cramping while also preserving organ function and maintaining healthy skin. With so many benefits, it makes sense to include massage as part of your overall health plan. Do your body a favor by giving your heart a “squeeze” and schedule your regular massage to celebrate Heart Health Month!
Sandy Saldano, Lic. Massage Therapist
Owner of Therapeutic Kneads, Ltd.