Massage Therapy for Heart Health

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In recognition of February as American Heart Month, created to educate the public about cardiovascular disease, we feature massage for cardiovascular health.

According to Heart Foundation.org, about 80 million Americans have heart disease or high blood pressure. The 2010 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics update of the American Heart Association reported that 17.6 million persons in the United States have heart disease, including 8.5 million with a history of heart attack and 10.2 million with chest pain.

A good massage can both calm and stimulate the nerve endings in the skin; release endorphins (happy hormones); and reduce production of cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones). Massage helps blood circulate more efficiently, lowers blood pressure, and causes heart rate to slow down.

Stress is a proven major contributor to cardiovascular disease. Research studies suggest that massage therapy can shift a patient’s nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic function. The sympathetic nervous system mobilizes the body for action with the fight-flight-or-freeze response, when faced with a stressful situation. Staying in this state for a prolonged amount of time is a common problem in our stressful modern society, and increases the likelihood of developing or worsening heart disease. Stress speeds up the heartbeat, increases breathing rate and causes blood vessels to narrow in diameter. The parasympathetic response, on the other hand, creates a relaxation response, characterized by reduced heart and breathing rates and dilated blood vessels.

A regular and consistent massage regimen can reduce the risks associated with stress, including cardiac arrhythmia. This is a medical condition in which the heart pumps less effectively than normal, causing less blood to reach the brain and other vital organs. Studies have shown that consistent massage therapy can contribute to reducing the risk of heart attack. Massage therapy relaxes contracted muscles and assists the veins in moving blood through the circulatory system, thus reducing strain on the heart.

Research also reveals that massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure and increase blood circulation. A pilot study at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center showed that inpatient massage treatments performed after heart bypass surgery reduced pain levels, decreased the frequency and severity of muscle spasms and improved sleep.

Massage therapy is usually administered by a trained and licensed therapist who uses hands and fingers to manipulate the tissues of the body –muscles, tendons and skin. When performed by a trained professional, massage is generally safe, with no adverse side effects. Since massage improves the circulation, it facilitates the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the body’s cells, tissues and organs. The gliding action of the massage therapist’s hands over the skin can have a calming effect on the nerves, which medical studies show can help reduce the adverse effects of stress on the heart.

For people who do not get enough physical exercise, a massage at least once a month is highly recommended. Keep in mind that the effects of regular massage are cumulative. The more often and more consistently massage is received, the more it will help improve health over time.

Before receiving massage therapy for a heart condition, first consult your primary care physician or your cardiologist. If your doctor advises that massage may help you, find a massage therapist who meets the licensing requirements in your state. If you live in a state that does not require licensing, choose a therapist who is nationally certified or is a member of a massage therapy professional association, such as AMTA or ABMP.

Regardless of your age, size, gender or health, massage therapy performed by a qualified therapist can improve your heart health by reducing the effects of stress on the body, promoting relaxation of body and mind, and enhancing your overall well-being. Give us a call to discover how massage offers a drug-free, non-invasive and pleasurable approach to helping the cardiovascular system feel better and function better!

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