Massage Therapy and Heart Disease


  This article was originally published by IntegrativeHealthInstitute.ca.

I bet you weren’t aware that massage therapy is different for people with heart disease. Heart disease is a group of conditions affecting the structure and functions of the heart and has many root causes. Some examples of heart disease are: Hypertension (high blood pressure), Angina, Congestive Cardiac Failure, and Coronary Artery Disease, to name only a few. Most people are unaware that massage differs for individuals dealing with heart disease because they are unsure of the effects that massage therapy has on the body. As a massage therapist it is one of the first things I check when I am reviewing the health history form. Even if your condition is controlled, it is important to inform your massage therapist in order to have the safest and most effective treatment possible and please check with your general practitioner before receiving massage therapy. The modification to your treatment might be as simple as having your blood pressure taken before and after your treatment.

High blood pressure can be managed but what you may not be aware of is massage therapy actually increases blood pressure through its long soothing flushing strokes. A typical massage focuses on moving the fluids towards the heart. In fact, one of the goals as massage therapists is to help flush an area, pushing fluid into the circulatory system after more aggressive technique are used, in order to remove some of the build up of metabolites that reside in hypertoned muscles and scar tissue. Yes, the long soothing strokes are very relaxing but we need to consider the mechanical effect that massage has on the body. As your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in during a massage, the part of the nervous system that allows you to rest and digest, the massage therapist is manually circulating blood and lymph throughout your body. For people with a normal heart rate and a healthy heart, this is not a concern. However, for someone with heart disease, regular Swedish massage can elevate blood pressure to an unsafe level.

With all of this being said massage therapy can still be exceptionally beneficial and relaxing for someone with heart disease, with a few simple modifications to their treatment. Massage helps to decrease the sympathetic nervous system from firing, which in turn can actually help to decrease BP by helping to decrease the stress response. Soothing and less vigorous techniques are used, and slow, relaxed breathing is encouraged. During a visit, your blood pressure will be taken. If your BP is within normal limits or is considered mild hypertension, a reading of around 140/90, a regular treatment is given. A blood pressure reading will be taken post massage in order verify that the massage did not cause any adverse effects. Someone with moderate hypertension or a more severe form of heart disease may require a few additional modifications to their treatment. For instance, the long and full limb effleurage will changed to shorter and more local strokes with the direction of the strokes away from the heart which limits venous return, helping to prevent an increase in blood pressure. The massage may also begin at the feet or hands; this also limits vascular return and differs from a typical Swedish massage that may begin on the back. Other modifications can include limited use of broad applications of hot hydrotherapy, avoiding stimulation or vigorous techniques that can elevate BP, and positioning on your stomach may be limited or eliminated, positioning on your side or in a semi-reclined position may be used and is also usually more comfortable for someone with heart disease.

If you are unsure whether or not massage therapy is appropriate for your condition please speak with your general practitioner or make an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors at the Integrative Health Institute today.

Never had massage therapy before?? Feel free to email me at mgillians@integrativehealthinstitute.ca with any questions or concerns you may have. Or feel free to book a 15min meet and greet with any of our qualified RMT’s who will take the time to answer questions, show you the clinic, or demonstrate some of the techniques that can be used.

Melanie Gillians is a Registered Massage Therapist who is a recent graduated from The Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy. She is a member of the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario and the Registered Massage Therapists Association of Ontario. Melanie began her career in the health care industry as a dental assistant but quickly realized she desired to provide a more positive and effective approach to an individuals overall wellness. She felt drawn to the massage therapy profession because of her natural ability to comfort and nurture those who surround her. She loves the ability to connect with people on a cellular level, making a difference in their day-to-day lives.




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