Massage therapy for seniors provides a loving touch

For the elderly, a good rub can go a long way.

Therapeutic massage is gaining acceptance as a legitimate way to relieve a person's aches and pains, both physical and mental.

Massage can be especially beneficial to seniors, from those with arthritis, diabetes, circulatory problems and high blood pressure to those with headaches, stiff joints and sore backs.

In fact, 28 percent of all massage patients last year were 55 years old or older, according to national statistics.

"Massage is wonderful for just working out the crimps and the creaks," said Anita Booth, a massage therapist who often works with elderly patients.

Alma Sanders, who offers massage therapy sessions for older adults, said more and more seniors are learning about the benefits of massage.

"Some of my clients said they sleep better," she said. "It takes care of their aches and pains."

Massage reduces the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, increases blood flow and relieves joint and body stiffness.

It also releases endorphins, which act as a natural painkiller in the bloodstream.

"That's what happens during massage, and that's why it feels so wonderful," said Booth, who owns HealthWorks Massage Therapy in East Peoria, Ill. "There's a chemical reason for it."

Elmer "Lee" Manning, 81, has been going to Booth for about two years.

Manning said massage therapy works wonders for him.

He has hip trouble and says massage "helps tremendously." He says the treatments alleviate back pain, noting that he also suffers from a pinched sciatic nerve, headaches and tight shoulder muscles.

"It sure helps me sleep. It helps me move," he said. "It helps about everything."

Sanders said word-of-mouth is the best way to get business, especially among the elderly, who may not be familiar with massage as a treatment option.

"Usually my people bring their friends or they buy them a gift certificate and drag them in," she said. "My older people, they need it, they like it, and a lot of people who never had it should get it."

She said massage helps the elderly maintain some of their muscle tone and flexibility, and it pushes toxins out of the muscles. It also helps control pain.

"It doesn't take the pain away in its entirety, but it does lessen it, and it takes away the need for some of the medication," said Sanders, who massages all ages at Spoil Me Rotten in Peoria Heights.

Both Sanders and Booth agreed that some people have the wrong ideas about their line of work.

"People are shedding that old idea that it's connected with prostitution or something, and they're associating it with preventive medicine and maintenance," Booth said.

Booth said trust is important for a good massage session.

"I try to establish a good relationship with them so they can completely relax and have a good experience," she said. "I do anything I can to make them comfortable."

Both women tailor massages to the patient's needs, varying the type of massage and the amount of pressure, speed and conversation.

"Everything is case-by-case-by-case," Sanders said. "You've got to find [a massage therapist] whose touch fits your needs, especially for older people, because they're delicate."

Sanders said she encourages people with serious health conditions to visit a doctor before stretching out on a massage table.

"If it sounds like something that could be a serious problem, I tell them to check with the doctor first," she said. "If their doctor OKs it, then we'll get busy."

Booth said those with cancer or systemic infections should not sign up for massage therapy.

Although some insurance companies give patients a discounted rate, massage therapy is not fully covered.

"I think that in the future, health care will cover massage. It's coming," Booth said.

One of the side benefits of massage is actual human touch, Booth said.

"The elderly don't get loving touch. They might get medical attention, but they don't get loving touch," she said. "Massage therapy is very special. It's a much more sustained and loving connection between human beings."