Massage aims to stimulate the body through the skin, the body’s largest sensory organ. It is usually administered by hand (but it can also be given using the elbows and feet) and can be applied to any part of the body to heal injury, relieve psychological stress and tension, improve circulation, manage pain, relax muscle spasms and eliminate waste and toxins from the body.
There are many different massage techniques. Some are gentle, aiming to trigger the release of endorphins (the body's own painkillers) and promote a sense of relaxation and wellbeing. Other techniques are more vigorous to help stretch uncomfortable muscles, ease stiff joints and so improve mobility and flexibility.
Massage should not hurt, although you may experience some discomfort if pressure is applied. It is not suitable if you have certain medical conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, damaged blood vessels, bleeding disorders or you take blood thinners such as Warfarin. It is not suitable if you have weakened or fractured bones. If you have bruising or wounds you should wait for these to heal before having a massage.
How can it help in Parkinson's?
Research suggests that massage can help to relieve the muscle stiffness and rigidity that is often found in Parkinson’s. It can also help reduce stress, promote relaxation and enable you to identify tension in your body, and so find ways to minimise or reduce this. Tension can make symptoms worse so it is important to keep it under control.
Massage can also be invigorating and stimulating, both for the mind and body. It is important to decide what effect you want – relaxing or stimulating – before your massage session starts!
Massage can work in two ways:
- A mechanical action in which the muscles and soft tissues of the body have pressure applied to them or are stretched using specific movements. This can help in breaking down ‘knotty’, fibrous tissue, keeping joints loose and connective tissue in good repair.
- A reflex action in which massaging one part of the body has an effect on another part, for example massaging the neck can help with back pain, or massaging the lower back can help with leg pain. This works because nerve pathways connect various parts of the body and so massage can have a ‘knock on’ effect.
Massage benefits may include:
- reduced stress, anxiety and depression
- reduced pain
- reduced constipation
- improved flexibility and mobility
- improved circulation and elimination of waste and toxins
- improved quality of sleep
- greater sense of self-awareness and wellbeing
- improved vitality.
These benefits can obviously be enjoyed by carers and family too.
What should I expect at a massage appointment?
Massage is not regulated in many. It is therefore a good idea to ask your doctor or other healthcare professional for recommendations. Friends, family, other people with Parkinson’s or your national Parkinson’s association may also be able to advise based on personal experience.
It is advisable to see a therapist who has experience of Parkinson’s so do ask about their experience of the condition as well as their qualifications.
Massage can take place almost anywhere that is relaxing. It may be in a clinic, at your home, the practitioner’s home or at a hospital. You will generally lie on a special massage table or sit in a massage chair and usually you will need to be partially undressed or fully undressed, in which case towels or sheets should be provided for modesty.
At the first appointment the practitioner will ask about your medical history and any specific problems you have. It is important to tell them of any injuries or disabilities you may have. The first session will usually be around an hour long, with follow up sessions between 30-60 minutes. The length of a course of treatment will depend on your individual needs and should be discussed with your massage therapist at the outset.