A day at the spa feels great — there’s nothing like a good rubdown in a relaxing setting to recharge your batteries. But massage therapy is much more than a pampering activity; it’s a serious treatment for certain medical conditions, including hypertension.
At Peninsula RSI Chiropractic Wellness Center in Redwood City, California, Dr. Dana Robinson and our team of experts understand the science behind massage therapy and employ it often to help our patients overcome symptoms and complications of headaches, migraines, chronic pain, repetitive strain injuries, chronic fatigue, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and more.
It may also surprise you to learn that massage therapy can lower your blood pressure. Here’s how.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure, takes into account two biological measurements: how much blood your heart pumps out and how much resistance there is (if any) in your arteries. If you pump a lot of blood and your arteries are narrow, the force of blood against your arterial wall is high and you have hypertension to some degree.
We measure your blood pressure as a fraction. The top number (systolic) tells us the force your heart creates when it beats and pumps blood out. The bottom number (diastolic) tells us about the force between pumps. Normal blood pressure is considered 120/80, so if your numbers are higher than that, you should take steps to lower it.
Primary hypertension refers to a condition that has no clear cause and typically develops gradually throughout your life. Secondary hypertension comes on suddenly (with or without symptoms) and is the result of an underlying condition.
High blood pressure puts you at risk for serious health problems, such as heart failure, heart attack, stroke, vision loss, aneurysm, and metabolic syndromes, so it’s important to know your blood pressure and control it. Massage therapy can help.
How massage therapy improves hypertension
Therapeutic massage addresses high blood pressure in three critical ways.
Improves cortisol and endorphin levels
Being under high stress, especially for a long time, is one of the main factors in hypertension. When you’re in danger — clearly a stressful event — your kidneys crank out a flood of cortisol, a hormone that makes your heart beat harder and faster and increases your blood pressure considerably. This gives you the energy you need to flee from the danger.
You’re in survival mode for the moment, and your body diverts blood from your organs to your muscles so you can run to safety. Cortisol also helps your blood coagulate, in case you were truly in danger and were injured. Once you’re safe, your body shuts off the cortisol and releases endorphins instead, the opposite of cortisol. Endorphins relax your muscles and flood your system with natural pain relief.
When you live and work under constant stress, your body can’t tell the difference between daily pressure and real threats, so it goes into survival mode unnecessarily. As a result, you end up with high blood pressure. Massage therapy can help by promoting the release of endorphins. Your muscle fibers and blood vessels relax, your heart rate slows down, and your blood pressure drops.
We’ve established that too much stress raises your blood pressure, and (unless you’re in survival mode) it does more harm than good. Massage therapy not only helps reduce the effects of stress, but it also reduces the stress itself.
Studies show that massage therapy promotes deep relaxation and dramatically decreases anxiety and stress. Functional brain imaging and EEG tests reveal a significant reduction in cortisol and more activity in the parasympathetic nervous system. These tests also show positive changes in the hypothalamus and the amygdala areas of the brain, which are responsible for regulating emotions.
Teaches your body to lower its blood pressure
Regular massage therapy can condition your circulatory system to perform more efficiently over time. Just like exercise strengthens your muscles and trains them to repeat patterns of movement, massage therapy can retrain your mind to be calm and your blood vessels and muscles to relax, re-establishing a healthy mind-body connection and ultimately lowering your blood pressure long term.
Where to get massage therapy for hypertension
If you have high blood pressure and want to find out if massage therapy can help you, don’t head to your nearest boutique spa. While those pampering services definitely feel good and may help you to some degree, what you really need is a professional with the qualifications to treat your high blood pressure as a medical condition.
Dr. Robinson understands the right pressure and technique to use to cause your body to respond appropriately and reduce your blood pressure. To schedule a consultation with her, contact us today by phone or online, and find out if therapeutic massage can improve your hypertension.