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Research With Massage Therapy Foundation

By Massage Therapy Foundation Contributor

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Massage for High BP

Contributed by MK Brennan MS, RN, LMBT; Natalie Lorick, LMT; Derek R. Austin, PT, DPT, MS, BCTMB, CSCS

Editor's Note: This is a review of an article published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine by Mahshid Givi, which studied the impact of massage therapy on blood pressure.

Although this study was done in Iran, the prevalence of high blood pressure, hypertension (HTN), is estimated to be 33 percent of adults in developed countries. It is viewed as the "silent disease" since individuals oftentimes do not know that they have HTN until they have a heart attack or stroke, unless it is diagnosed during a physical exam.

Hypertension is treatable and preventable, and a new classification of pre-hypertension may be beneficial in early identification of risks for coronary disease and HTN. Pre-hypertension applies to those with a blood pressure (BP) between 120/80 and 140/90. Lifestyle changes are oftentimes recommended as a first approach in treating pre-hypertension including the use of complementary medicine with massage being the most popular among patients. In this study, the BP of women with pre-hypertension who received Swedish massage was examined.

Study Participants

blood pressure - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Using a two-group, two-phase single blinded clinical trial with massage therapy as the independent variable and blood pressure changes as the dependent variable, the study included non-pregnant women between the ages of 18-60. Inclusion criteria were determination of pre-hypertension, no disease affecting the BP, no skin disease in the area of the massage, no medications taken for BP, no specific diet, no obesity, and no severe or acute stress and lack of using relaxing techniques.

Thirty-eight subjects were randomized to the control group and 40 to the massage group. Of those in the control group, 13 were lost due to follow up. For the massage therapy group, 19 discontinued the intervention and two were excluded from analysis. The control group participants were asked to not change their lifestyle during the study and were informed that they would receive massage therapy if the study found it to be beneficial.

Swedish massage on the face, neck, shoulders, and upper chest was conducted three times a week for 10 sessions for the individuals randomized to the study group. Each session lasted 10 to 15 minutes with the individuals in the supine position. The subject's BP was measured and recorded before and after each session. The control group used relaxation techniques including deep breathing while lying down using the same schedule as the massage therapy group. All study subjects had their BP checked again 72 hours after the study.

Evaluating the Outcome

An analysis of the study results showed that there was no significant difference in terms of the demographic data, menstrual status, and BMI between the two groups. There was a significant difference, however, between the two groups in their BP readings. The massage group showed a statistically significant BP reduction during the study and three days after the intervention in comparison to the control group.

However, the difference was slight, averaging a change of about 10mmHg in the systolic BP and 5mmHg in the diastolic BP. Pre-intervention BP at the first session for the massage group was 128/81.68 on average and was reduced to an average of 116/76.32 after the massage intervention.

For the control group, pre-intervention BP averaged 129.04/81.52 at the first session and post-intervention was 130/81.36. The 72 hour follow-up showed a difference between the two groups with the massage subjects' BP at 117.92/76.08 compared to the control group subjects' BP at 129.39/81.3.

This small research study showed a statistically significant reduction of BP following massage. However, there are some limitations to this research. In particular, there was no follow-up beyond the three-day window. Further, the current study included only women, without any men, whose BP may respond differently to massage. It is also unclear what the effects of massage on BP would be with hypertensive individuals, as only pre-hypertensive women were included.

A number of individuals in both groups did not complete the study, and were thereby excluded from the analysis. It appears an intention-to-treat (ITT) analysis was not performed, which would have included individuals in the original study population who did not complete the intervention.

Further massage research is recommended for both men and women who are pre-hypertensive or already diagnosed with HTN. Sustainability and durability of massage therapy effects
on the BP of pre-hypertensive individuals at different times after the intervention should also be evaluated.

If you are interested in learning more about research on HTN or another topic. The MTF Basic Research Literacy course is an interesting and informative way to gain greater confidence in accessing and reading research papers. To learn more about the courses offered visit

Editor's Note: This synopsis is authored by volunteers from the MTF's Writing Workgroup. To learn more please visit their columnist page.

  1. Resource
  • Givi M. "Durability of Effect of Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure." Int J Prev Med, May; 4(5): 511–516, 2013.
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