1/6/2023 | By Donna Brody

What seems like a pleasurable luxury can actually provide health and wellness benefits. Writer Donna Brody looks at massage as therapy and offers reassurance for seniors who may have hesitated to try one.

A massage is at the top of my list when it comes to an indulgence in ultimate pampering, but a massage can also be therapeutic, especially for people over 50. “In 2021, 63% of consumers who got a massage for health and wellness reasons stated it was part of a treatment plan from a doctor or medical provider,” says the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).

Professional and armchair athletes use massage to loosen muscles and combat injuries and even as a preventive measure to keep problems at bay. New research is showing that massage therapy can help with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, lowering blood pressure, managing pain, and improving quality of sleep. Preliminary studies also suggest that massage therapy may help with dementia and headaches and minimize side effect of cancer treatments.

And yet, only about a quarter of the adult population in the U.S. has experienced a massage, and many seem reluctant to try it. According to the AMTA, men are more likely to get a massage than women – 25% of men and 21% of women – a shift that has occurred since the pandemic began.

I was introduced to massage when I worked as an administrator at a proprietary college that offered a massage therapy certification program. The students studied anatomy, physiology, pathology, business, and they had a prescribed number of clinical hours to learn massage techniques. Since extensive practice on actual subjects was also required, I was lucky enough to act as Guinea pig several times a week for students (probably the best job perk I’ve ever experienced!).

Basic types of massage

Chair massage

Someone who has never had a massage may be more comfortable with this option. Participants are fully clothed and seating. They face the “back” of the chair, leaning forward into a face cradle. The therapist works primarily to ease tension in troubled areas like neck, back, shoulders, and arms usually caused by sitting at a desk or working at a computer too long. Chair massage usually lasts 30 minutes or less and is priced accordingly.

Swedish massage

This common type of massage is available in spas, massage therapy facilities, chiropractor’s offices, or even in one’s own home. Most are scheduled for 60 or 90 minutes, with higher price tags for longer massages and more luxurious or professional facilities.

During a Swedish massage, participants disrobe to their comfort level and lie on a sheet-covered massage table. The therapist will ask about medical concerns or past injuries and any areas of pain before beginning. Then they will dim the lights, often with soft music and soothing scents to enhance the relaxation effect. Aside from those questions when starting the massage, most therapists won’t engage in any other conversation unless it is to ask if you are uncomfortable or in pain. Relaxation is key.

The therapist lubricates the skin with massage oil to ensure a smooth, relaxing touch. They perform various massage strokes, kneading muscle tissue to release tension and break up muscle knots or adhered tissues, called adhesions.

Unless requested otherwise, they’ll work all over the body (except for intimate areas), head to toe, front and back.

Deep tissue massage

man getting a deep tissue massage on his shoulders. Image by Nikki Zalewski. Beyond relaxation, massage as therapy can provide health and wellness benefits, especially for those over 50, from anxiety to pain management.

The therapist uses more pressure than in Swedish massage in order to better reach areas with tension and pain. The pressure can feel more tender and painful, however, it’s often recommended for people with sports injuries, high blood pressure, sciatica, and fibromyalgia.

Specialty massages

Other types of massage, for relaxation or managing medical conditions, include hot stone massage and salt massage, procedures designed for migraines and other specific ailments, foot massage, pregnancy massage, and even medically-oriented massages after surgery and other medical procedures.

What to look for in massage as therapy

Massage therapy is an extensive field that covers a number of modalities for people with a variety of needs. Massage therapists are licensed by the state in which they practice, with several levels of licensing and/or certification. When deciding where to get a massage, consider:

More from Senior’s Guide: 5 key benefits to getting a massage

To get the most from massage as therapy

  • Make sure you are well hydrated before and after.
  • Take a shower beforehand to start relaxing your muscles.
  • Dress in loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Relax and be receptive to the process.
  • Communicate with your massage therapist if you need a lighter touch, more pressure, a specific area targeted, etc.
  • Don’t get a massage with a full stomach.

But most importantly, enjoy!

Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.

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