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Therapeutic Effect of Massage Therapy on the Elderly

Zheng Zhu (Jason) Li, RMT - Registered Massage Therapist

Physical Effects of the Aging Process

The aging process is normal. The body tends to collapse a bit during aging. Muscle tissue diminishes, bones are not as flexible and more prone to breaking. Joints are worn and osteoarthritis is common. The spaces provided for the nerves are reduced, and bones and soft tissue structures can put pressure on the nerves, resulting in sciatica and thoracic outlet syndrome. Circulation to the extremities is diminished, often resulting in a burning pain. Dehydration, lack of appetite, weight loss and insomnia or disrupted sleep may also occur with advanced age. However, massage therapy can help ease the discomfort of some of these conditions.

The parasympathetic stimulation produced by massage can increase blood circulation, enhance appetite and improve digestion for elderly clients. It can also improve sleep, support restorative mechanisms and increase vitality.

Depression and Dementia

It is common for elderly people to become depressed. This frequently is a combination of both a chemical depression and a situational condition.

Massage therapy stimulates neurochemicals that can lift mild depression temporarily. Also, massage has proven to show temporary improvement in conditions such as dementia. For example, wandering behavior associated with Alzheimer’s has the potential to be decreased and an increased awareness of the current environment has been observed.

Social Interaction

Many elderly people are living alone and potentially not interacting with others on a consistent basis. We all need stimulation. If a person is not physically and emotionally stimulated, neurologic function begins to deteriorate.

The interaction with a massage therapist can provide both physical and emotional stimulation for the elderly. If nothing else, the physical contact with another human being provides sensory stimulation with beneficial results.


Many elderly people take several medications. They are also more sensitive to the dosage level of medication and less able to self-regulate homeostatic processes.

Regular massage therapy may allow for a reduction in the dosages of some medications, although this is a decision that needs to be made between the clients and their physician.

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