A recent study reports that a single one-hour massage session resulted in improved balance and decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure among healthy, older adults.
The study, “Massage Therapy Produces Short-term Improvements in Balance, Neurological and Cardiovascular Measures in Older Persons,” involved 35 healthy, older men and women with an average age of about 63 years.
Participants were randomly assigned to either a control group or the massage group. Those in the control group rested quietly in the massage room for 60 minutes. Those in the massage group received a one-hour, full-body massage.
Among the main outcomes measures in this study were static and functional postural control, with eyes open and eyes closed, along with heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. These measures were evaluated before and immediately after the one-hour massage, as well as 20 minutes and 60 minutes after the session.
To assess posture, participants were asked to stand on a balance platform, which was connected to a computer. The researchers used Balance Clinic data collection and analysis software to record each subject’s movements on the computer.
For the measurement of static balance, participants were asked to stand on the balance platform with both legs, once with their eyes open and once with their eyes closed. For the measurement of functional balance, participants were asked to stand on the balance platform with one leg lifted, once with their eyes open and once with their eyes closed.
Comparing the baseline postural and cardiovascular measures to the measures taken immediately after the one-hour massage, the researchers found no significant differences. However, the data gathered both 20 and 60 minutes following the massage showed increased stability and decreased blood pressure.
“These results indicate increasing stability over time in the [massage therapy] group compared to the control group,” state the study’s authors. “While a certain amount of movement (displacement) is required as the body adjusts to maintain posture, after the [massage therapy] individuals required less movement to maintain upright stance. Moreover, the movement that did occur was slower (lower velocity), suggesting more control.”
Both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of subjects in the massage group were significantly lower 20 minutes and 60 minutes after the intervention. The heart rate of subjects in the massage group showed a slight increase throughout these time periods, but not enough to be considered clinically significant. No such changes were detected among participants in the study’s control group.
“The above effects were found to begin after the [massage session] with the trends continuing to strengthen for at least 60 minutes post-treatment,” state the study’s authors.
Authors: JoEllen M. Sefton, Ceren Yarar and Jack W. Berry.
Sources: Neuromechanics Research Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama; and Department of Psychology, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. Originally published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 5(3), 16-27.