Massage Therapy Produces Short-term Improvements in Balance, Neurological, and Cardiovascular Measures in Older Persons

JoEllen M. Sefton, PhD, A.T.C., C.M.T., Ceren Yarar, PhD, P.T., Jack W. Berry, PhD


Background: Falls are the primary cause of accidental death in older persons, producing increased morbidity, decreased independence, and billions in medical costs annually. Massage therapy (MT) may produce adaptations that decrease risk of falling. If MT can improve stability in older persons, it may provide a new intervention for this issue.

Purpose: Determine the acute effects of a 60-minute MT treatment on static and functional balance, neurological measures, heart rate, and
blood pressure in healthy, older individuals.

Setting: Laboratory

Research Design: A 2 by 4 (treatment by time) mixed factorial experimental design for the cardiovascular and postural control variables;
independent variables were treatment with two levels (control, MT) and time with four levels (pretreatment baseline, immediate post-treatment, 20-minute post-treatment, 60-minute post-treatment). Neurological measures utilized a 2 by 2 mixed design, with testing conducted pre- and 60-minutes post-treatment.

Participants: Thirty-five healthy, older volunteers (19 male and 16 female; ages 62.9 ± 4.6). Intervention: A 60-minute full-body therapeutic massage. The control group rested quietly in the treatment room.

Main Outcome Measures: Static (double-legged) and functional (single-legged) postural control with eyes-open and eyes-closed; Hoffmann-reflex
measures; heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Results: MT significantly decreased rectangular displacement area in both the eyes-open and eyesclosed, double-legged stance conditions (p < 0.05); displacement velocity in both eyes-open conditions (p < .05); and systolic and diastolic blood pressure (p < .05), while increasing heart rate (p < .05). MT also significantly lowered Hmax/Mmax ratios compared to controls (p = .002). Decreased Hmax/Mmax measures were correlated to improved stability.

Conclusions: A single, 60-minute, full-body massage therapy treatment was shown to have a stabilizing effect on measures of static and dynamic
balance and physiological factors related to stability in older adults. MT should be investigated as a potential intervention to decrease falls in older individuals.


elderly; aging; complementary and alternative medicine; postural control; H-reflex; massage

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International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork
ISSN 1916-257X