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Massage Today
May, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 05

Specific Considerations when Massaging Seniors

By Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT

On January 1, 2011, the first baby boomers turned 65. Every day since then, and for the next 18 years, 10,000 people will turn 65 according to the U.S. Census. Over the next decade, we will feel the impact of this change on the health care system, the housing market, the retail industry and in our own massage therapy businesses.

Whether or not one's business specializes in geriatric massage, we will all see an increase in the number of older clients we treat. This means it is important to be aware of the difference between massaging your younger clients and massaging senior clients. Even though many in this demographic are active and in robust health, others are more sedentary and frail. It is important to have a basic understanding of the considerations to keep in mind when working with this population.

Try to find out for how much of their life a client has been active. The issues common to a client who has been active most of their life tend to be more "predictable" from week to week, as they usually are not making any drastic changes to their activity level. These types of clients also tend to be in a general better overall state of health and can usually handle a one hour session. On the other hand, some active seniors might have recently taken up exercising as a result of a doctor's suggestion, or a personal desire to become healthier, but have not been active for most of their lives. These clients typically have more acute pain issues resulting from their body adjusting to an exercise program and they are typically less flexible. One hour sessions may be too long for some, so please be aware of how the client is responding, and if they seem to be uncomfortable after a half hour, that may be the right amount of time for a session.

Regardless of activity level, seniors still are geriatric clients and should be treated as such. The amount of pressure one uses should be modified since their skin is thinner than younger clients. Some other contraindications to consider when working with geriatric clients include, but are not limited to, thinning bones, the site of a repeated injection, burn wounds, skin ulcers or any type of joint replacement. A comprehensive intake is necessary to determine if a client has any condition that might require a doctor's permission before performing bodywork.

The above information is meant as an introduction to working with seniors, instead of a complete guide. There are many issues related to aging that go beyond simply applying less pressure, such as medications, thinning skin and stamina. Because of the growing aging population and the body of evidence that proves massage is beneficial for our health, geriatric massage is on the rise. We are learning more and more about this field every year, which is exciting. Therefore, it is highly recommended to take continuing education classes in geriatric massage that discuss techniques and contraindications in depth. This way, one is properly prepared for the rewarding experience of working with this population.

Click here for more information about Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT.


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