Since February is Heart Health month I thought it would be helpful to discuss high blood pressure and how it affects your massage treatments. Let’s first look at what blood pressure is and understand high blood pressure.
What is Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)?
Blood pressure is the measurement of the circulating blood pumped by the heart, which creates a cyclic force of blood against the blood vessels. A healthy blood vessel is flexible enough to expand and contract. This action of contraction and expansion of the vessels produces the bloods pressure.
High blood pressure is the elevation of blood pressure above the normal range (120/80) for a prolonged period of time. If the blood vessels become narrowed or inflexible, the heart must work harder to pump the blood through the blood vessels. This increased pressure results in high blood pressure. If you have a continuously high blood pressure you are increasing your risk of having a stroke or heart attack and damaging many of your organs including the heart, kidneys, and brain.
Classification of Blood Pressure
Systolic (Top #) Diastolic (Bottom #)
Normal >130 >85
High Normal 130-139 85-89
High Blood Pressure
Systolic (Top #) Diastolic (Bottom #)
Mild 140-159 90-99
Moderate 160-179 100-109
Severe 180-209 110-119
Very Severe 210+ 120+
Massage and High Blood Pressure
For new clients your massage therapist will generally take your blood pressure if you have indicated on your health history that you have high blood pressure, or a cardiovascular condition, a family history of cardiovascular conditions, or are pregnant. This is to determine if treatment modifications are necessary as well as keep a baseline record to monitor if there is any change in your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is determined to be too high and not stable, your therapist may refuse treatment until medical attention is sought.
Treatment modifications depend on the severity of the hypertension. Generally, a client with mild hypertension that is compliant with medical treatment, often does not require any modifications. However, a client with moderate to severe hypertension may expect the following modifications.
Treatment Modifications for High Blood Pressure
· Reduced time in the prone (face down) position, this is due to the pressure it places on the abdominal aorta
· Semi-seated, while in supine (face up) position, this is done to reduce the stress placed on the cardiovascular system
· If the side-lying position is necessary to treat areas of focus, the therapist will likely keep you on your right side, this is because it is thought side-lying on your left may place additional stress on the heart
· Painful techniques are used sparingly, and spread over a series of treatments. This is done because an increase in your pain level can activate the sympathetic nervous system, this in turn further increases your blood pressure
· Massage techniques mechanically facilitate forward movement of blood and lymph toward the heart, because of this the therapist may shorten massage strokes or begin treatment on the limbs if a full body treatment is being performed. This helps control the amount of blood and lymph flow to the heart
· Throughout the treatment the therapist is alert to changes in the client that may indicate cardiovascular distress such as shallow breathing, sweating, facial flushing, or dizziness or increased heart rate reported by the client. If the therapist observes any of these symptoms, further treatment modifications can be made. If symptoms continue the treatment is ended and medical attention is sought.
If you are curious as to what your blood pressure is next time you have a massage appointment I would be more than happy to check it. Also, most pharmacies have a self-serve measurement station that prints out your blood pressure so you can keep track.
Visit the heart & stroke website for more information about heart health. Also you may be interested in their risk assessment tool to see if you are at risk for heart disease or stroke. I found it very interesting and useful.