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How to handle the pressure

May 9, 2017

Welcome! It’s great to see you again and we are thrilled to be jumping back into the thick of things with our blog! 


Did you know that May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month? Wow…that’s a lot to say in one breath! Are you wondering what that has to do with massage? There is definitely a connection; hang out with us for a few minutes and let’s chat about it. Already familiar with high blood pressure? Stick around…you might find something new or useful!


So, first, let’s cover the basics. High blood pressure is described by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as  “a common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels (arteries) at higher than normal pressures”. It is also referred to as hypertension and its well-earned nickname is “the silent killer” because, even though this condition can lead to serious health problems, many people don’t have any symptoms. The Million Hearts® initiative notes that, “of the 75 million Americans who have hypertension, almost half do not have the condition under control” and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates about 11 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure and aren’t even aware of it. Most people with uncontrolled blood pressure have health insurance and see their primary care physician regularly. It’s a condition that doesn’t really give a hoot about age either; about one in four men and one in five women age 35 to 44 is affected.


So, we’ve established that hypertension often does its dirty work while remaining hidden in the shadows. But what is that “dirty work”? What does this disease DO? In short, it damages the blood vessels, causing excess wear-and-tear to that vital network of tubing. The average adult has about 100,000 miles-worth of blood vessels within their body. Seem impossible? Not when you think about their size! The Franklin Institute uses this example: “the smallest blood vessels are only five micrometers wide. To give you some perspective, a strand of human hair measures about 17 micrometers.” Those blood vessels help to supply every one of the 37.2 trillion cells in the body with all that they need to survive; the blood carried within those tiny tubes brings in nutrients and oxygen, takes away waste and, when needed, brings in immune cells. Now imagine the kind of things that could happen if that network of tubing was damaged, either worn to the point of breaking or, thanks to inflammation, narrowed to the point of closure. 


The results can show up in a variety of ways…there are as many options as there are parts of the body. Aneurysms (bulging arterial walls) can rupture, press on other body parts or block blood flow to other areas; narrowing of blood vessels could lead to damage to the kidneys or the heart; and the eyes can be damaged as vessels within them burst or bleed. Then there is the potential for damage to the brain…a stroke. That took a quick and unfortunate turn, didn’t it? But seriously, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports stroke as the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.; every 40 seconds, someone in the States has a stroke. Yikes. Some risk factors (heredity, age, gender and ethnicity) can’t be controlled but others like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are manageable. High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for stroke and that’s where we find our tie-in to massage.


When someone is diagnosed with hypertension, lifestyle changes are often the first recommendation. As with most things, the suggestions are eat healthy, get active, maintain a healthy weight, and…drum roll, please…stress management! NIH says “learning how to manage stress, relax and cope with problems can improve your emotional and physical health and can lower high blood pressure”. Massage, particularly Swedish massage, is great for both relaxation and stress management. 


Studies show that massage “can significantly reduce” blood pressure and that pressure remains lower for a number of days. Now, this does not mean that someone diagnosed with hypertension should say “Yippee — massage time!” and start scheduling appointments with their favorite Massage Associates therapist without listening to anything that their doctor recommends. It means that massage therapy has been proven to be a supportive treatment. We suggest that our hypertensive clients heed their physician’s recommendations as well as make an effort to get regular massage as a part of their self-care. Some table time can make a world of difference. 


Be sure to let your massage therapist know about any medications you are taking to control your blood pressure and, more importantly, any side effects you experience. Some meds have side effects that require a slight change to the work we can do. Weird but true! For example, if a client is bruising easily, deep tissue is not recommended. There are other modalities that can achieve similar results without the potential harm. That’s true of almost every type of massage we offer so don’t think telling us about a medication or the effects it is having are going to make us send you home. We cannot stress enough the importance of letting us know about changes to your health history and medications. Having all of that information is like having all of the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle; it allows us to make informed decisions.  


Well, that wraps up today’s entry. Be sure to come back soon and see what we have to share! Until then, be well and enjoy the beauty of Spring! 
























Great video: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/names


Tips for controlling HBP: https://millionhearts.hhs.gov/files/TipSheet_How_to_MCYG_General.pdf

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