Merits of Massage

Offering insight into how therapeutic massage can benefit geriatric patients

It’s no secret the American population is getting older. In fact, the aging baby-boomer generation and their growing need for healthcare has been a prominent story in the national news for years. But one healthcare service for the elderly that has perhaps gone underappreciated is massage therapy.

What specific conditions are ideal for massage therapy treatment in geriatric patients? “Beyond providing relaxation and overall stress reduction, massage can make a positive impact on incontinence, lymphedema, and chronic aches and pains, while also improving range of motion,” said Desmond Diaz, LMT, OMT, team massage therapist for Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer and owner of A Balanced Life Center in Orlando.

Diaz’s professional background includes five years of experience in skilled nursing, independent living, and outpatient rehab facilities throughout Florida. He also continues to treat many geriatric clients on an outpatient basis in their homes.

Mind and Body

“Personally, I think one of the greatest benefits geriatric patients can receive from massage therapy is an enhanced sense of personal well-being,” Diaz related. “They also develop an increased awareness of their functional ability and enjoy traditional benefits of massage like improved circulation and muscle tone.”

Kate Miller, PTA, BSPTA, CFT, education coordinator for HawkGrips in Conshohocken, PA, contributed her thoughts on the subject as well. “As a physical therapist assistant, I’ve worked with the geriatric population for four years in environments such as inpatient acute, outpatient, skilled nursing, and home health,” she related. “‘Manual therapy’ is an umbrella term that includes treatments like massage therapy and soft-tissue mobilization (STM), among many others. I personally perform STM and believe manual therapy is incredibly important for many healing processes. The power of human touch, not to mention specialized techniques addressing tissue dysfunction, can make an enormous difference in treatment outcomes.”

Miller added that individuals in the geriatric population would certainly benefit from STM following surgeries such as knee or hip replacements.

“Major surgeries like these, though they are performed to increase mobility, can actually put patients at risk for soft-tissue dysfunction if appropriate mobilization treatments aren’t provided post-operatively,” she explained. “Soft-tissue work helps keep the body in balance, prevent restrictions in tissue mobility, and decrease pain. Among the other conditions it can help are postural abnormalities such as scoliosis, lordosis, or kyphosis; chronic pain disorders, plantar fasciopathies, and even recurring headaches.”

Special Considerations

Are there any special considerations healthcare professionals should keep in mind when providing massage therapy or soft-tissue mobilization to elderly patients?

“Always obtain as detailed a medical history as possible, complete with previous diagnoses and medication lists,” emphasized Diaz. “Some medications may contraindicate certain types of massage. Additionally, pay close attention to the skin of geriatric clients, because it may be fragile and susceptible to tearing. Taking care that you make appropriate accommodations, such as utilizing the correct table height so clients who aren’t as mobile can get on and off comfortably, is also key to them having a great experience.”

“Although age isn’t always a predictor of fragility, it’s good to keep in mind that bone density and lean body mass tend to decrease as patients get older, while postural abnormalities increase and global deterioration occurs,” added Miller. “Knowing this, it’s especially important to be aware of any conditions or diagnoses your patient has. Also, monitoring patient feedback can help a clinician perform the appropriate methods of soft-tissue mobilization at the correct intensity.”

Remembering these treatment tips should enable healthcare professionals to ensure the full benefits of massage therapy and soft-tissue mobilization are enjoyed by elderly patients.

“I believe the geriatric population is often neglected when it comes to massage and wellness, and I feel it can positively impact their quality of life,” concluded Diaz. “I hope more clinicians start offering massage therapy to them and the geriatric population takes greater advantage of these beneficial services.”

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