Older Americans are opting for massage to soothe away the aches and pains

February 04, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Antionette Ayers, a licensed massage therapist at The Bodyworks Massage in Hagerstown, gives a massage. More and more seniors are getting massages as part of their regular health-care routine.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

When Ella Williams was a member of her college's track team, a massage was part of her weekly routine.

Forty years later, Williams said she's no longer running long distances — just neighborhood jogs and lots of walking.

But she continues to reap the rewards of a good rubdown.

Twice a month, the 62-year-old Hagerstown woman puts her body in the hands of a massage therapist.

"At my age, it's not a luxury," she said. "It's a necessity. I want to remain active but my muscles have become a lot tighter. A half-hour on the table works wonders."

Williams is among a growing number of senior citizens who are making regular appointments for a massage.

A 2008 survey by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) showed that more than 47 million American adults received a massage. The largest increase was among people older than 60.

And while many devotees know a massage can be relaxing, the survey noted that more than 40 percent used massage to improve their health and well-being.

"Massage can benefit the older adult in so many ways," said Antionette Ayers, a licensed massage therapist with The Bodyworks Massage Center on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown.

"It can improve circulation, loosen the tightness in muscles, warm the joints and help calm you," she said.

Since joining Bodyworks in 2008, Ayers said she has seen "quite a few more seniors coming in for a massage. Many people are trying it for the first time. But we also have regulars who come in twice a month."

Ayers, who is a graduate of the New York Institute of Massage Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., practices Swedish, deep tissue, myofascial, prenatal, hot stone and onsite, seated-chair massage.

The chair massage often is good for seniors who have some physical disabilities and are unable to position themselves on a table, she said.

Massage therapy for senior citizens doesn't differ in technique but it does differ in application of that technique, says the AMTA. The skin of older adults usually becomes thinner and joints are stiffer with reduced range of mobility. Overall health and vitality also are considerations. 

Most massages for senior citizens are limited to less than one hour and greater time is usually spent on massaging hands and feet, especially with those seniors who are wheelchair-bound or have arthritis.

According to the AMTA, a massage therapist can use gentle techniques such as tapping and light kneading to mobilize tender muscles, tendons and joints.

Massage therapy helps reduce inflammation-related pain around joints, according to the AMTA, promoting the restoration of range of motion. Improved range of motion can enhance a person's ability to perform regular daily activities, which in turn can lead to increased independence and a higher quality of life.

The Mayo Clinic reports that improved circulation is one of the principle benefits of massage therapy. Healthy circulation of blood and lymph is especially important as a person ages and reduced circulation is particularly problematic for diabetics.

And, Ayers said, for people who have sleeping problems, a massage can help relax them.

But, in addition to the physical benefits, there are emotional benefits, as well.

According to a 2010 study about massage therapy and health outcomes in older adults published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, those who received massage therapy produced significantly higher health outcome scores in emotional well-being.  Participants said massage therapy helped reduce their anxiety, stress and loneliness.

Ayers said the human touch should not be dismissed for its impact on a person's well-being.

"It was one of the reasons I got into this profession," she said.  "People told me I had great hands."

"The way society is today, there is a lack of touch," she said. "It's so taboo. Massage has an important emotional benefit, especially for the elderly."

For those who say a massage isn't for them, Ayers has a challenge.

"Just try a chair massage for about 5 to 10 minutes," she said. "That's all it will take."

Massage tips        

  • Before you make your first appointment, the American Massage Therapy Association offers these tips:
  •  Find a massage therapist that is licensed and properly trained.
  •  Limit your appointment to 30 to 45 minutes at a time. Older adults appear to respond better to shorter sessions.
  •  Be careful when positioning yourself on the massage table. If you have mobility problems, ask for help or request a chair massage.
  •  Tell your massage therapist this is your first massage. Request a gentle relaxation massage. Ease into it.
  •  Let your massage therapist know if you have areas of pain or discomfort.
  •  Request use of lotions or oils or bring in your own favorites. Senior citizens' skin tends to be thinner and less pliable and using oils will avoid cracking or damaging the skin. Lotions will soften and moisturize the skin.
  •  Ask about the different types of massage that are available. With your help, the massage therapist will find the one that's suitable for you.

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