As the number of elderly persons within the general population grows, so does the number of research studies investigating the effects of massage therapy on senior citizens. Aging, the process of growing older, is both universal and unique to each person. The average life expectancy in the United States is currently 78.8 years. Learn about how massage therapy benefits elderly persons.

Use these hotlinks to learn about geriatric massage and specific details on setting and preparation, positioning and techniques, and frailty/duty to protect .

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Geriatric Massage — Research Report: Massage therapy reduced anxiety and depression and improved vitality, general health, and positive well-being in older adults (1). Massage reduced insomnia, improved sleep quality, decreased depression and anxiety, and improved quality of life in two studies investigating the effects of massage on postmenopausal elderly women (2). Because falls are a leading cause of disability and accidental death in older people, the effects of massage on balance were examined; it was found that a single, 1-hour full-body massage had stabilizing effects on static and dynamic balance in older persons (3). Harris and Richards (4) conducted a review of the literature to identify the effects of massage on relaxation in older people, as well as commonly used protocols. It was found that slow-stroke back massage (3 min duration) and hand massage (10 min duration) were effective in producing relaxation among this population.

Field et al (5) recruited 80 elderly volunteers to give infant massage as well as to receive massage. Volunteers of both groups (elderly volunteers who gave massage and elderly volunteers who received massage) reported decreases in anxiety and depression and had lower levels of cortisol and catecholamines (eg, norepinephrine and epinephrine). Both groups also reported improved health and lifestyle. However, results were stronger in the massage “givers” over the massage “receivers,” possibly because of increased satisfaction while massaging the infants (5).

Among elderly residents living in long-term care facilities, back massage combined with normal conversation decreased anxiety (6, 7) reduced pain, and improved communication ability (7). In elderly populations affected by disease, slow-stroke back massage decreased anxiety among stroke patients (8), as did Thai massage (9). Bush (10) advocated for the use of touch by nurses as a viable and cost-effective intervention to improve health and well-being and provide comfort and communication in both terminally ill older adults and their loved ones. Older adults with persistent pain experienced less limitation from physical or emotional concerns, better emotional health, more energy, less fatigue, and improved social functioning from massage therapy (11). Additionally, the National Institute on Aging suggests massage therapy as a method of pain relief.


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DeNatura Wellness

Articles and Journals Referenced:

  1. Sharpe PA, et al: A randomized study of the effects of massage therapy compared to guided relaxation on well-being and stress perception among older adults, Complement Ther Med 15(3):157–163, 2007.
  2. Oliveira DS, et al: Effect of therapeutic massage on insomnia and climacteric symptoms in postmenopausal women, Climacteric 15(1):21–29, 2012.
  3. Sefton JM, Yarar C, Berry JW: Massage therapy produces short-term improvements in balance, neurological, and cardiovascular measures in older persons, Int J Ther Massage Bodywork 5(3):6–27, 2012.
  4. Harris M, Richards KC: The physiological and psychological effects of slow-stroke back massage and hand massage on relaxation in older people, J Clin Nurs 19(7–8):917–926, 2010.
  5. Field T, et al: Elder retired volunteers benefit from giving massage therapy to infants, J Appl Gerontol 17(2):229–239, 1998.
  6. Fraser J, Kerr JR: Psychophysiological effects of back massage on elderly institutionalized patients, J Adv Nurs 18(2):238–245, 1933.
  7. Sansone P, Schmitt L: Providing tender touch massage to elderly nursing home residents: a demonstration project, Geriatr Nurs 21(6):303–308, 2000.
  8. Mok E, Woo CP: The effects of slow-stroke back massage on anxiety and shoulder pain in elderly stroke patients, Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery 10(4):209–216, 2004.
  9. Thanakiatpinyo T, et al: The efficacy of traditional Thai massage in decreasing spasticity in elderly stroke patients, Clin Interv in Aging 9:1311–19, 2014.
  10. Bush E: The use of human touch to improve the well-being of older adults: a holistic nursing intervention, J Holist Nurs 19(3):256–270, 2001.
  11. Munk N, Kruger T, Zanjani F: Massage therapy usage and reported health in older adults experiencing persistent pain, J Altern Complement Med 17(7):609–616, 2001.

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Dr. Susan Salvo is a massage therapist, author, educator, researcher, explorer, and perpetual student. To learn more, check out the “About Susan” tab. You can contact Susan at