Swedish Massage Therapy Reduces Heart Rate, Blood Pressure and Inflammatory Marker VCAM-1 in Hypertensive Women

To complement the Research Reports in the September 2014 issue of MASSAGE Magazine. Summary: Massage therapists provided one-hour weekly Swedish massage therapy sessions to a group of hypertensive women, while a control group of hypertensive women spent one hour per week resting, receiving no massage therapy. Both groups experienced significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure and inflammatory marker VCAM-1; but the massage group experienced a significant reduction in heart rate after each session, as well as blood pressure reduction over a longer term than the control group.Women in Malaysia with hypertension experienced a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and inflammatory marker VCAM-1 after receiving Swedish massage therapy once a week for four weeks.

The study, “Effects of Swedish Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, and Inflammatory Markers in Hypertensive Women,” involved 16 hypertensive women, ages 35 to 60 years old.

Hypertension in Malaysia has become more frequent among individuals over age 30, especially women. Hypertension is linked to stress and is a crucial risk factor for cardiovascular disease, a leading cause of death in women, both globally and in Malaysia.

The author explained that massage therapy is able to decrease anxiety and stress and “reduce blood pressure and heart rate in hypertensive individuals.” Researchers tested Swedish massage therapy’s effect on blood pressure, heart rate and inflammatory markers, including VCAM-1 and ICAM-1.

Participants passed a set of criteria, including specified diastolic and systolic blood pressure levels and no experience with Swedish massage therapy, and were screened for health conditions that may affect blood pressure. Participants were split into massage and control groups.

In the massage group, a massage therapist performed an hour of Swedish massage therapy to the whole body of each participant. Sessions occurred once a week for four weeks. Sessions included all Swedish massage techniques applied at medium pressure, which the author described as a “combination of petrissageor kneading, tapotementor beating/hacking/cupping, and effleurageor long strokes.”

The control group rested for an hour once a week for four weeks. Resting hours occurred at the same place and time as the massage group’s sessions. These participants were only able to read or sleep to avoid affecting their blood pressure.

Participants’ blood pressure and heart rate were taken before and after every massage and rest session, as well as 48 hours after final sessions. Participants’ blood was collected before initial massage and rest sessions and after final massage and rest sessions. 

Both groups experienced significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure and VCAM-1, with no significant difference between the groups. The massage group experienced a significant reduction in heart rate after each session. Sessions one, three and four reflected a significant difference between the groups’ heart rates. There were no significant changes in ICAM-1 within either group.

Swedish massage therapy and weekly hour-long rests reduced blood pressure, heart rate and VCAM-1. Swedish massage therapy’s effect on blood pressure extended to four weeks, while resting had a less long-term effect.

The author stated, “further studies are warranted on the effects of massage on blood flow to confirm” that Swedish massage therapy increases blood flow and shear stress on blood vessel walls, which “decreases the expression of VCAM-1” and “that the shear stress created by massage is not large enough to have effects on ICAM-1.”

Authors: Izreen Supa’at, Zaiton Zakaria, Oteh Maskon, Amilia Aminuddin and Nor Anita Megat Mohd Nordin.

Sources: Biomedical and Health Sciences, Universiti Selangor, Shah Alam, Malaysia; Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Cardiology Unit, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Originally published in 2013 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Volume 2013).

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