If you’re looking to lower your blood pressure, did you know that massage can help? Few people do. And around one third of people in the UK suffer with this condition. What’s more scary is that many don’t even realise it.
Here’s everything you need to know to help reduce the stress on your heart and improve your health in easy steps.
But first. What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is also called hypertension. It doesn’t have many noticeable symptoms, but when you leave it untreated, it can increase your risk of some terrible health issues. These include heart attacks and strokes.
The pressure that we talk about actually refers to the pressure of the blood as it passes through our arteries. Contraction of the heart muscle causes it.
If you want to find out if you have high blood pressure then you can get it checked at your doctors who put pressure on your arteries with a cuff in your arm and then measure the results in two figures.
They check the systolic pressure which is the force with which blood flow pumps out of your heart. This is the measurement as your heart contracts.
The diastolic pressure which is the lower of the two numbers is a figure representing the pressure before your heart contracts. This represents the resistance to the flow in your blood vessels. We measure them in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
You can tell whether the numbers are high or low by following the points:
- high pressure is 140/90mmHg or higher (or 150/90mmHg or higher if you’re aged 80 or more)
- They usually consider ideal blood pressure to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
If your reading is between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg this shows you risk developing high blood pressure so keep it under control.
Everyone’s blood pressure will be different. What’s considered low or high for you may be normal for someone else.
Risks of high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to lower it because if not, you’ll be putting extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and organs such as your brain, kidneys and eyes.
If you don’t lower your pressure, then you are putting yourself more at risk of conditions such as
- Heart disease and heart attacks or even heart failure.
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Aortic aneurysms
- Kidney disease
- Vascular dementia
These are life threatening and what’s great is that reducing your blood pressure reading even by just a little can help you avoid some potential knock on health issues.
Causes of high blood pressure
Not everyone has lifestyle issues that create an environment conducive to hypertension. However, there are some key factors which you should consider if you’re trying to reduce blood pressure readings:
- you’re over 65
- being overweight
- African or Caribbean descent are more prone to high blood pressure
- have a relative with the condition
- eat too much salt and do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
- do not exercise regularly
- drink too much alcohol or coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks)
- don’t get enough sleep or it’s disturbed
Healthy lifestyle changes may help your chances of being able to lower blood pressure readings.
How does massage lower blood pressure?
They have proven many times that massage improves your circulation and your blood flow. However, one of the best benefits of massage therapy is that it can lower blood pressure. And this isn’t just a temporary reduction whilst you’re having your massage. The studies show that the results are longer term.
As we’ve seen above, your blood vessels are a collection of smooth muscle fibres. These move in a co-ordinated movement to create a contraction we know as pumping. ‘My heart is pumping’. This moves blood through them along with a dilation, which is when these muscles relax.
This contraction and dilation are the two numbers we’ve discussed above in your blood pressure reading.
When your arteries harden or narrow because of a build up of ‘gunk’ over the years (also called plaque if we’re being more technical) then the space available for the blood to pass is more narrow.
This means our blood has a smaller space to pass through, meaning our heart either has to work harder (pump more) to get the right amount of blood and nutrients to the organs that need them. Or, we don’t get that blood and nutrient in sufficient quantities and we end up with a bunch of other illnesses as we’ve listed above.
Stress increases blood pressure.
We’ve all heard that. We know it. But why?
Because stress causes our adrenal glands and our kidneys to produce more cortisol, which is the stress fighting hormone.
Here’s the issue.
It was first developed when we were more active. When our stress is from needing to fight or fly. And so, we burned off the ‘boost’ it gave us,
Nowadays, where our stress is more continued and also created from more sedentary lifestyle options such as office based work, then we don’t have the chance to burn away the excess.
This creates a pressure on our heart because cortisol diverts blood away from our vital organs to save them should we be stabbed with a spear, etc. Except that working in an office doesn’t work like that. Our bodies haven’t caught up with the strain we’re placing them under yet, though…
You see the problems?
Constant stress creates a situation where our body is continually diverting the quality stuff away from the places that need them in order to mistakenly keep us alive. Our stomach stops digesting so we can use this energy to flee. And our blood feeds more vital tissues so we can run faster, forgetting that our liver may need oxygen rich blood.
When that stress eases, repair mode starts. We secrete endorphins which is our body’s natural pain reliever and the antidote to cortisol. You see how clever our inbuilt pharmacy is?
To relieve the pain from our ‘battle’ and related injury, our blood coagulates (clots) to stop us bleeding to death.
Now you’ve seen how increased blood pressure is caused, you can now see the issue that stress creates and why people who are under more stress have more chance of also having high blood pressure.
The magic of massage.
This is where we see the magic of massage. Experts have proven it. After just 20 minutes of massage, our body releases endorphins. These trigger our blood vessels to relax and so reduce the intensity at which our heart needs to pump. It reduces our blood pressure.
Massage means that our blood flow increases and so oxygen and nutrient rich blood cells get where they need to. This improved flow also helps to move on stagnant by-products of cortisol which we haven’t burned off through an active lifestyle associated with traditional hunter gatherer activities.
Just as exercise, when we perform massage regularly, our body becomes conditioned to this improved state of wellbeing. It learns to push blood in this new, more relaxed way. This leads to the longer-term effects of massage lowering blood pressure.
What’s the research associated with massage lowering blood pressure?
1999, researchers from the Touch Research Institute, the University of the Miami School of Medicine and Nova Southeastern University in Florida. Their study was “High blood pressure and massage therapy reduced associated symptoms”. They split participants who all had controlled hypertension into two random groups.
One had a massage, the other didn’t.
The massage therapy group showed decreases in sitting diastolic and systolic blood pressure and their cortisol stress-hormone levels.
2005, University of South Florida tested the effects of a applied back massage on the blood pressure of patients with clinically diagnosed hypertension.
Researchers found regular massage lowers blood pressure in people with hypertension.