How Massage May Help Lower High Blood Pressure

Massage may help protect against high blood pressure (hypertension) which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Some studies suggest that getting a massage may help calm the part of the nervous system responsible for involuntary responses to dangerous or stressful situations (sympathetic nervous system).

Although there has not been a lot of research on massage and blood pressure, some evidence shows that adding massage to your stress management routine could help you keep your blood pressure in check.

This article will go over what scientific evidence says about massage and hypertension. You'll also learn other lifestyle changes that can help you control your blood pressure.

Massage therapy
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What the Science Says

Studies have suggested that different forms of massage could help lower blood pressure, but the findings don't always agree. It's also unclear how long the effects last and whether massage would be a long-term strategy for helping someone manage their blood pressure.

Swedish Massage

Some researchers have looked at whether getting a Swedish massage can help lower a person's blood pressure.

  • A small trial in 2013 had some women with high blood pressure have Swedish massage for one hour a week for four weeks. The other women just rested during this time. The results did not show a big difference between the two groups—both had lower blood pressure readings.
  • A 2014 study found that having a 10-minute Swedish back massage and rest for 6 weeks helped lower blood pressure in a small group of people with primary hypertension.
  • In 2016, a small study on healthy women with anxiety found that having two Swedish massage sessions over 4 weeks was linked to improved vital signs, including blood pressure and heart rate.

Other Kinds of Massage

Other forms of massage might also be useful—for example, those that target specific areas of the body, like the back and feet.

Some studies have suggested that the positive effects of massage on blood pressure might also be seen in people with cardiovascular conditions like congestive heart failure.

  • A 2015 trial of patients with acute coronary syndrome found that when nurses gently massaged their hands and feet, their blood pressure decreased.
  • A 2016 study on older adult women with high blood pressure found that getting a regular massage every other day for 10 days helped to lower their blood pressure.
  • A 2016 study on patients with congestive heart failure who were in the hospital found that getting a back massage helped lower their blood pressure and improved their other vital signs as well.
  • A 2020 trial found that when women with high blood pressure had six sessions of 30-minute back and foot massages, twice a week, for three weeks, their blood pressure readings went down.

Researchers who have reviewed many studies on blood pressure and massage therapy have mostly indicated that more research is needed before the practice could be broadly recommended.

  • A 2015 review of research found that overall, massage therapy could be beneficial for some people with high blood pressure but that more research needs to be done to understand how, and why, it's helpful.
  • A 2016 review of massage therapy research highlight that while the practice has shown promise as a way to lower blood pressure, the studies often had significant limitations. For example, they used a small number of people and relied on self-reported data.
  • A 2019 review of research on different alternative treatments for high blood pressure, including massage, found that while the evidence was limited and not always high-quality, using massage might be safe for some people with high blood pressure when it's combined with other treatments (like medication).

One of the biggest limitations of the research that has been done on massage therapy and blood pressure is that the studies did not involve a lot of people. Future studies would hopefully be larger and include a diverse group of participants.

How Long Do the Effects Last?

Most of the research on massage and blood pressure only looked at the effects in the short term. We don't know how long the benefits of a massage on blood pressure will last for most people.

A 2018 trial of a small number of women with pre-hypertension found that the blood-pressure-lowering effects of a 10-15 minute massage sometimes lasted about 72 hours after the massage.

However, those effects didn't seem to last when the researchers checked the blood pressure readings of the participants two weeks later.

While the positive effects of massage on blood pressure might be seen quickly, they may also go away just as fast.

Can Massage Raise BP?

Some forms of massage—like sports massage or "trigger point" release—might actually raise blood pressure.

Reflexology, another complementary health practice that involves applying pressure to different parts of the body, has also been shown to possibly raise blood pressure in healthy people.

These types of massage tend to cause more discomfort than gentler methods. If people feel pain during these massages, that could be why their blood pressure goes up.

Aromatherapy Massage

Research has shown that the holistic healing practice of aromatherapy—which uses different scents from essential oils—may help lower blood pressure.

A 2012 trial found that using aromatherapy with essential oils helped lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure and those at risk (prehypertension).

Given these outcomes, researchers have also looked at whether the possible blood pressure-lowering benefits of massage could be enhanced by adding aromatherapy.

  • A 2013 study on a small group of middle-aged women with high blood pressure found that those who got a massage with aromatherapy had lower blood pressure measurements when they took their blood pressure at home as well as when it was measured at the lab.
  • A 2016 study of men and women from Japan found that performing a 45-minute aromatherapy foot massage (with help from an instructor) three times a week for four weeks lowered their blood pressure and reduced anxiety.

Tips for Lowering Blood Pressure

There are many options for treating high blood pressure. While some people do need to take medication to keep their levels in check, there are also many lifestyle changes that can help, including:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet (getting plenty of fruits and vegetables and limiting saturated fats and salt)
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Achieving and maintaining a weight that supports your health
  • Reducing your alcohol intake
  • Quitting cigarettes

Summary

Some evidence suggests that massage can help people with high blood pressure. For example, Swedish massage and aromatherapy massage may help lower blood pressure, though it's not clear how long the effect will last.

Whether you take medication for your blood pressure or not, there are other lifestyle changes that can help you keep your blood pressure under control, such as eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, quitting cigarettes, cutting back on salt and alcohol, and maintaining a weight that's healthiest for your body.

A Word From Verywell

There isn't enough research to say that massage therapy is a sure way to control your blood pressure, but getting a massage on a regular basis may lower your stress.

Feeling less stressed may help prevent high blood pressure. Other stress management techniques like yoga, meditation, and tai chi can also help.

If you're interested in trying to use massage to manage your blood pressure, ask your healthcare provider first. It might be fine for you to use self-treatments, but you should not avoid or delay standard care for high blood pressure, as doing so could have serious health consequences.

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