An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from a known hypothyroid condition, and 10 percent of adult American women may have some degree of such conditions, according to endocrineweb.com.
January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, sponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, a time when massage therapists can learn how clients with thyroid disorders might benefit from massage therapy.
Signs of a Challenged Thyroid
The term hypothyroidism encompasses any condition witnessing the thyroid gland’s inability to produce adequate levels of hormones known as T3 and T4. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune inflammatory condition that destroys the thyroid gland, is the leading cause of hypothyroidism. The other major cause indicates a broad medical treatment term that includes surgical procedures to remove all or a portion of the thyroid. Removal of cancerous tissue in thyroid cancer patients is a prime example of this cause.
Major signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue; muscle weakness; fluctuations in weight without an obvious reason; dry, thinning hair; rough skin patching; cold intolerance; depression; abnormal menses; decreased libido; and cognitive challenges.
A patient may be difficult to diagnose by her physician due to not manifesting many of these symptoms initially. Insidious changes occur slowly, leaving a patient wondering why he feels off-balance. Most people will not think to consider their thyroid as the culprit, resulting in symptoms worsening slowly over time. Serious complications can occur, including heart failure, coma and severe depression.
The Enlarged Thyroid
Goiters, or enlarged thyroids, may be witnessed in hypothyroid patients. These result from an
overproduction of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland. The constant stimulation from TSH will cause the thyroid tissues to swell. If the thyroid gland still cannot produce adequate T3 and T4 hormones, the patient will be considered to have goitrous hypothyroidism.
It is important to note that the presence of a goiter does not always equate to hypothyroidism. Other conditions featuring the development of a goiter include dietary iodine deficiency, the patient taking lithium carbonate, infectious disease, postpartum complications or a rare fibrosis condition called Riedel’s thyroiditis.
A massage client with hypothyroidism could be on one of several different medications for the treatment for hypothyroidism. The most common drug is a synthetic thyroid hormone usually sold under the brand name Synthroid or Levothroid, according to the website of the Mayo Clinic. The generic name of the drug is Levothyroxine. This drug is a synthetic form of T4 hormone (the most significant of thyroid hormones) and is used to replace one’s T4 hormone levels. Evaluation of dosage can be tricky for some patients. Proper communication with the endocrinologist is key to determining the proper dosage daily. An annual evaluation of the drug’s effectiveness is expected as well.
The half-life of Levothyroxine is six to seven days, meaning it takes this time period for the drug serum levels to drop significantly enough to become insufficient in the patient. Because of such a long half-life, massage therapists must communicate effectively with the client to determine how the drug is affecting the client at the time of massage treatment.
Common side effects of Levothyroxine and other hypothyroid medications include chest pain, changes in menses, headache, fatigue, heat intolerance, hives, facial swelling, breathing challenges, fainting and tremors, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. Overdosing symptoms include changes in consciousness, skin pallor, vertigo, changes in pulse, confusion and sudden headaches, aphasia and apraxia. It is important for massage therapists to recognize these signs and symptoms with their hypothyroid clients.
Massage for Thyroid Patient Health
Massage therapy and related bodywork can benefit the hypothyroid patient in many profound ways. First, a significant reduction in the patient’s symptoms can be witnessed with the usage of acupressure. This benefit was demonstrated by a research study in Russia conducted in 2011. Reflexology and Gua Sha technique were also utilized in this study involving Chinese medicine theory in addressing hypothyroidism.
A second benefit of massage therapy for the hypothyroid patient is aiding improved blood and lymphatic circulation. Since proper blood and lymphatic flow is vital for all endocrine organs, the thyroid could benefit from improved circulation.
Reduced inflammation is a third benefit derived from massage therapy and related bodywork. Research through the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, and McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, indicates that massage therapy may create a result similar to anti-inflammatory medications at a cellular level. This benefit will aid the hypothyroid patient with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or similar inflammatory concerns.
A fourth benefit of massage treatment is reduced stress within the body. This benefit can decrease cortisol and other stress hormones to help manage weight healthily.
Finally, increasing muscle strength will combat the fatigue and weakness often felt by the hypothyroid patient. A Swedish massage including a large percentage of petrissage strokes can enhance the size, strength and stamina of muscle tissue.
Please note that the information presented here is not intended to replace advice from a medical professional.
About the Author
Jimmy Gialelis, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., is owner of Advanced Massage Arts & Education in Tempe, Arizona. He is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved provider of continuing education, and teaches “Working with Pathologies—Arthritis” and many other classes. He wrote “Fibromyalgia: Massage Therapy Considerations” for MASSAGE Magazine’s July 2015 print issue and “5 Ways Massage Improves Diabetes Care” for massagemag.com.