Hypertension and Massage Therapy

Hypertension and Massage Therapy 

By Mika Gorgonio

“Hypertension is a ‘man’s problem'”.  “Hypertension only affects older people.”  “There are so many symptoms, I would know if I had hypertension.”  Which of these statements are true?   Are they true?

The truth is, no. Factually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hypertension overall affects women just as likely as it does men.  Any difference in this statistic has to do with age.  Under the age of 45 years old more men are affected with hypertension, but above the age of 65 hypertension tends to affect more women than men.  This also means that you do not have to be older to have hypertension. Do you want to know the scarier part?  There really is not any signs or symptoms of hypertension and that is why it is often referred to as the “silent killer.”

Hypertension is defined as abnormally high blood pressure.  Blood pressure is defined as the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels.

My husband has battled hypertension for a few years now.  He has been on medication and because of this, we thought for sure it was controlled.  Every time he went to the doctors he was still within parameter. Then in October I found myself rushing him to the Kailua ER in rush hour traffic thinking he was having a heart attack at 34 years old.  It turns out he had an aortic dissection which is a tear in your aorta, the large blood vessel that carries blood away from your heart, and can be caused by (and was in his case) high blood pressure. Aortic dissection is very often fatal (it is what killed John Ritter and Alan Thicke).  Had my husband high blood pressure continued to course through his aorta and continually weaken the aortic walls so far as to rupture, he would have died.
My husband was of the small percentage of people with aortic dissection that survived.  In all the years that I have been practicing massage therapy he has never asked for a massage more often than now.  You might think that is odd.  How does the spouse of an OSR massage therapist not get massages every day?  Well it just doesn’t happen that way.  But it should.  Had I been more nagging that he get on a more regimented massage program, I could have decreased his risk for hypertension.

Many studies have shown that there is overwhelming evidence that massage can help to lower blood pressure. However, there is a caveat.  Studies have shown that while specific modalities of massage can help to lower blood pressure, certain modalities can also increase blood pressure.  It has been concluded that circulatory or relaxing massages like Swedish, Cranial-Sacral, and reflexology are the modalities that have the best results in lowering blood pressure. While other modalities like trigger point therapy, deep tissue, or any other potentially painful techniques might increase blood pressure readings.  A possible reason for the increase in the blood pressure from these modalities is the induced pain can trigger a flight or fight response which can be stressful for the patient.

This is not to say that if you have controlled hypertension that we will not perform trigger point therapy or deep tissue massage on you.  It just means that our communication with each other has to be just that much better.  As the patient here at Oahu Spine & Rehab, you have to be honest with yourself and what your pain tolerance is.  You hear us say it all the time “do not let me go beyond a 7 on YOUR pain scale of 1-10.”  Everyone’s tolerance for pain is different.  And everyone’s anchor for pain is different.  For me a 10 might be childbirth, and for my husband a 10 might be stubbing his toe (I am joking…he is not that big of a wimp).  A “7” is usually when most people start to brace themselves for pain and “fight back”.  It is when people start to hold their breath or “clench.”  Now if you are doing any of that during any massage, the pressure is too much and you need to tell your therapist to back off.  Don’t be afraid that you will hurt our feelings because you won’t. We rely on that information.


While massage therapy is great as a means to help reduce blood pressure, it is by no means an end all or cure all method.  If you suffer from hypertension you should consult with your medical provider to see what your triggers are. Once you know your triggers, you can figure out other ways to lead a healthy life style to reduce you blood pressure.  The first step is to really understand blood pressure.

Systolic Pressure- commonly known as the “upper number”, measures how much blood is exerting against the artery walls with each heart beat

Diastolic Pressure- commonly known as the “lower number”, measures how much blood is exerting against the artery walls while the heart rests between beats.

The chart below is a general reference for blood pressure readings.  This could change given age and several other factors.  It is however a good diagnostic tool to see where you stand.



The next step to understanding hypertension is to understand the general causes for it. Yes, genetics can play a role in it but that does not mean that we have to fall victim to it.  Make the change to your diet now.  Make the change to your lifestyle now.  Several things that can increase your risk for hypertension are:

  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Sodium
  • Lack of exercise
  • Alcohol / Drugs
  • Obesity

The best way to combat hypertension is with your primary care doctor and being aware of your triggers.  For my husband it was everything listed above except for drugs.  He has a stressful job and works nights. Up early with the kids.  He is a local boy so you know he eats too much salt.  He doesn’t get the chance to exercise so of course he is overweight.  And with three kids, well a beer seems almost necessary.

After our recent ER scare, I realized that since I want to keep him around for those three kids you better believe things had to change in our house. We now monitor blood pressure daily. He also gets weekly massages because it reduces stress and can also greatly improve your quality of sleep.  We nixed the salt (except when I am at work… shh) and we are trying to be more active and drink less beer. It’s a hard change to make but it sure is easier than the alternative.

Here at Oahu Spine & Rehab in Kailua we want our patients to be as healthy as possible. If you think you may have hypertension, visit your primary care physician first and foremost in order to get on any medications and get your numbers leveling out. Give us a call at OSR to schedule a therapeutic massage with me or our other massage therapists at 488-5555!
















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