Massage and Hypertension

What is Hypertension?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects more than one in three Americans, but most people may not even know they have it. Since hypertension can lead to heart attacks and other life-threatening health problems, it’s very important to learn all you can and take action to lower your risk.

Blood pressure is the actual force of blood flowing against your artery walls. Getting your blood pressure tested is a quick, simple process. It’s measured in two numbers: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is considered high if your systolic pressure is at or above 140
mm Hg, and/or your diastolic pressure is at or above 90 mm Hg.

Often called “the silent killer,” hypertension doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it gets severe enough to lead to major health problems such as heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and metabolic disorders. It has also been linked to dementia and cognitive impairment.

What causes hypertension?

More than 90% of cases of high blood pressure are known as “essential hypertension” and have no identifiable cause. “Secondary hypertension,” on the other hand, is caused by underlying conditions such as kidney disease or certain medications.

The risk factors for essential hypertension include:

  • Age – the risk is higher after age 35
  • Race – certain ethnicities are at higher risk
  • Genetics – a family history of the condition increases the risk of developing hypertension.

Did you know massage therapy could help?

Knowing the clients’ medical history can help the massage therapist to tailor the massage to the clients’ specific needs. However, if high blood pressure is not controlled, it is important to understand that the effects of massage could increase the blood circulation and put additional pressure on the blood vessel walls.

Strong evidence from several research studies demonstrates the positive effects of massage on individuals with hypertension. In a study in 2006 by the National University of Health Sciences, the preferred modality to use was Swedish massage as opposed to more aggressive techniques that may involve pain such as trigger point therapy.

If a client is taking medication to lower their blood pressure, it is important to watch that the blood pressure does not get too low. As the body relaxes the blood vessels expand, and as a result the pressure against the blood vessel walls goes down. When the blood pressure is too low, the blood does not pump efficiently to the brain and causes a reaction that results in faintness due to lack of blood to the brain.

During a massage, the client and therapist should communicate and watch for signs that might indicate too much or too little pressure. Some signs that the cardiovascular system is experiencing too much pressure include:

  • Clamminess,
  • Bogginess,
  • Possible Edema (days following treatment)

What types of massage are beneficial?

When working with a client who has hypertension, it is important to focus on using relaxing strokes as opposed to more aggressive techniques. The following types of massage are recommended:

  • Swedish Massage
  • Craniosacral therapy
  • Reflexology

Note: Never perform deep abdominal massage on a client with hypertension.

What can you do?

If you or someone you know has high blood pressure, consider these self-care techniques for lowering blood pressure:

  • Get daily aerobic exercise
  • Meditate or spend time alone to reduce stress
  • Practice slow, deep breathing
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Reduce the amount of fat and salt in your diet and increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol, coffee, and spicy foods.



A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology 4th Ed. Ruth Werner Lippincot Williams & Wilkins 2009

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