Man receiving massage

Massage therapy can positively impact heart health.

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Massage therapy can have a significant positive impact on patients recovering from a stroke or heart surgery, as well as for patients who are looking to manage their stress level in order to lower their chance of heart disease or stroke. We spoke with Justin Doherty, a Registered Massage Therapist who has been part of the pt Health clinical team since 2004.

How many patients who come in for massage have hypertension or high blood pressure?

“It’s pretty common to see in patients, although a lot of times it’s a secondary condition, so not necessarily the condition they’re coming in for. Often we’ll notice something like that on the health history, so we talk to them and discuss the benefits of massage for their high blood pressure at that point.”

Do you adjust your technique for patients with high blood pressure?

“There are certain things that we look for when we’re massaging someone with high blood pressure. We always check in verbally throughout the massage to make sure they’re feeling okay. Techniques are adjusted appropriately too – we don’t use long strokes or pressure that really increase blood flow, we use shorter strokes more specialized to the areas.”

Open-heart surgery.

Massage therapy can also help patients recovering from open-heart surgery. Many times, a collaborative approach between and physiotherapist and registered massage therapist can offer the highest benefit for the patient. “The physiotherapist will use stretches or maybe manual therapy to help keep the chest open, and will use back exercises to help strengthen the back to keep it open,” Justin says. “It’s one thing to work to strengthen the back muscles to help keep the chest area open, but if the muscles in the front are still tight, they’ll still be pulling the posture forward. That’s where massage therapy can augment the benefits of physiotherapy. Loosening the muscles of the chest with massage helps patients keep their chest and shoulders in the correct position.”

Treatment for stroke patients.

Stroke patients often come for massage trying to ease pain from contractures – the constant flexed or curled position of the muscles that is common after stroke.  Patients can be very different depending on the amount of time that has passed post-stroke. Justin stresses that patient outcomes around massage to treat this aspect of stroke are “…much better with earlier intervention and continuous therapy. What we want to do is gently stretch and manipulate those tissues to help release them and help them to regain as much function as possible.”

Stress, stress, go away!

One of the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke is stress. Medical research is proving that massage therapy is instrumental in reducing stress on a physiological level. When asked what patients typically experience as a result of massage, Justin provides the following list:

  • Significant changes in posture – more upright and open.
  • Better blood flow to the muscles.
  • Better, more restful sleep – often due to the fact that blood pressure has been lowered.
  • Decrease in cortisol levels, with increased levels of serotonin and dopamine (the regulators of mood).
  • More alertness and mental acuity – brings your head “back into the game.”

All the more reason to come in for a massage with a pt Health Registered Massage Therapist today!




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