I have heart disease. Is massage right for me?

Senior man having a massageAccording to the Heart Foundation.org about 80 million Americans have heart disease or high blood pressure. The 2010 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics update of the American Heart Association reported that 17.6 million persons in the United States have heart disease, including 8.5 million with a history of heart attack and 10.2 million with chest pain. The prevalence of heart disease increases with age for both women and men.

Heart disease requires a variety of possible treatments, including various medications and procedures. Some people with heart disease may benefit from regular massage, but there are certain types of massage that can possibly cause serious damage. You need to be sure you’re in a knowledgeable practitioner’s hands to make sure you are safe.

Can Massage Help?

A hypothetical example:

Alex is a 59-year old tax preparer who has moderately High Blood Pressure that is easily controlled with a healthy lifestyle and medications. He is married, enjoys golfing, shooting, and watching football. As Alex’s work becomes busier during tax season, he gets headaches that are frequent and intense.  And when he works too much, he doesn’t have time to take care of himself like he should.

Alex’s doctor recommended that massage could help compliment his treatment plan to stabilize his blood pressure. His doctor referred him to a therapist who is experienced in working with cardiovascular patients. The doctor and therapist agreed that a relaxation massage with some trigger point and stretch techniques mixed in would be safe and beneficial for him.

After a few massage sessions, his headaches decreased. The doctor recommended a massage twice every month, but during busy season, Alex likes to go every week. The routine gives him peace of mind in knowing he’s doing everything he can to take good care of himself. For him, massage is a great antidote to the hours at his desk, and he finds himself less “grumpy” when he gets home after a hard day. When work is less busy, and Alex has more time for golf, he finds that massage gives him great relief for his low back tension, which helps his swing. Alex considers massage as part of his prescribed health routine, just like eating carefully and exercising.

What should you be careful of?

Because there are so many different types of cardiovascular conditions, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The type of massage that you have seen on TV is not the only kind out there, and in fact, may not be right for you. Your complete health history must be considered before making a decision. You must always talk to your doctor before deciding to embark on a personal massage program:

Blood thinning drugs: Cause the body to be more sensitive and in some cases, even fragile. Deep tissue done on someone taking blood thinners can cause inflammation, bruising, and tissue or organ damage.  Like the wise man said, more is not always better.

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Massage may be just the thing to help you manage stress and subsequently your high blood pressure (just like the example above). Low blood pressure is also a concern, and because massage lowers one’s blood pressure slightly, it is not uncommon for individuals taking medication to lower their blood pressure.  This would cause them to get a bit lightheaded just after receiving a massage, until the blood pressure returns to normal.

Blood Clot: Individuals with a history of blood clots (aka Thrombosis) should avoid Swedish Massage. Swedish massage techniques on someone who has a risk of blood clotting could possibly dislodge a clot and release it into the blood stream. In a worst-case scenario, this can induce a stroke or heart attack, or a lung blockage.

Pacemaker: If an individual has a pacemaker, stent, or any kind of apparatus implanted into a vein/artery which is superficial (in the neck and leg would be considered superficial, but inside the rib cage is not), the therapist must avoid pressing over that area so as not to dislodge or damage it or surrounding tissues. But massage can usually be safely done on the rest of the body.

Massage can usually be great for someone who has Arrhythmia or a disruption in the heart rate, if that is the only health concern.

An individual with any signs of Congestive Heart Failure should avoid vigorous Swedish massage or limit Swedish massage to less than 15-20 minutes.  Gentle Massage on head, feet and hands is not a problem.

Close-up of a physiotherapist massaging a senior woman's back in the medical officeYou must find a therapist who is experienced and knows how to keep you safe. If they don’t ask about your medications or medical history, you’re not in the right office. Interview them on the phone before you go, and check their credentials. You probably want to ask your doctor to consult with your therapist so they can discuss your options. You probably CAN have massage, but it may be different from what you imagined, or what you see on TV.

How do you choose a practitioner?

If you are seeing a cardiologist, you should definitely get medical clearance before you have a massage. You should also get guidance on what kind of massage is best, and what the risks are. You should call your therapist before your appointment to make sure they have a good understanding of what it takes to keep you safe and comfortable. Most Certified or Licensed massage therapists get instruction on working with individuals with heart disease as part of their entry level massage education. However, there are additional classes available, and each therapist has varying levels of awareness and experience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the therapist qualifications, and what they’re going to do during the massage. While you’re receiving massage, continue to ask questions as they come up. If at any time during the massage it feels worse than a “hurts good” sensation, then it’s too much, and you should speak up. Your therapist should never encourage you to suffer through anything you don’t like during a session.

The MedFit Network can help you find a reliable, educated massage practitioner in your area. In the right hands, you are sure to relax and find comfort through skilled touch. Search Now.


Kathy Flippin’s passion is to offer excellent therapeutic massage, and educate her clients on how they can take the best care possible of themselves. Kathy is the owner of Dynamic Touch Massage and has been a Sports Massage Therapist since 1997. Her clients include everyone from professional athletes to active grandmothers.

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