Geriatric massage

Geriatric massage

Geriatric massage is a form of massage designed to meet the specific needs of the elderly population. It involves the use of hands to manipulate the soft tissues of the body to improve blood circulation, relieve pain, and increase range of motion. Active or passive movement of the joints may also be part of geriatric massage.

Old people often suffer from a variety of such agerelated diseases as Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease. As a result, they have poor blood circulation and limited physical activity. Many of them are also anxious, depressed, and lonely.

Geriatric massage can help them maintain and improve their overall health, as well as regain certain physical functions that have been reduced or lost due to aging. In addition, it can relieve anxiety and depression and provide comfort to touch-deprived elderly patients.


Modern massage techniques were brought into the United States from Sweden in the 1850s by two brothers, Dr. Charles and Dr. George Taylor. Their massage technique was invented by a Swedish fencing instructor named Per Henrik Ling in the 1830s. When he was injured in the elbows, he reportedly cured himself using tapping movements around the affected area. He later developed the technique currently known as Swedish massage. This massage technique involves the application of long gliding strokes, friction, kneading and tapping movements on the soft tissues of the body. Passive or active joint movements are also used.


Geriatric massage offers the following benefits:
• Increase in blood circulation, thus preventing such complications of diabetes as leg ulcers or gangrene.
• Improvement in lymphatic flow, which increases the excretion of toxic substances from the body.
• Alleviation of headache and pain.
• Speeding up of healing from injury and illness.
• Partial restoration of mobility lost due to Parkinson’s disease or arthritis.
• Mental and physical relaxation.
• Improvement in length and quality of sleep.
Relief of stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
• Improvement of the patient’s quality of life and self-esteem.


Geriatric massage uses the same basic massage techniques as general massage. It is, however, tailored to the specific health conditions and needs of the elderly population. Geriatric massage has the following characteristics:
  • Short sessions. A geriatric massage session usually lasts no longer than 30 minutes, as a longer session may be too much for an elderly person.
  • Use of gentle hand motions. These motions are comfortable and soothing to the body. They are designed to improve blood circulation and heart function, prevent diabetic complications, relieve muscle tension, and relax the body and the mind.
  • Passive movement and gentle stretching of shoulders, legs and feet to improve joint mobility and flexibility.
  • Gentle massaging of the hands and feet (if the joints are not inflamed) to prevent stiffness and relieve pain.
  • Occasional use of stronger movements such as friction and pressure strokes. These are sometimes used to massage such areas as the shoulders to improve flexibility.


Geriatric massage should not be used as a replacement for exercise programs or medical treatment in nursing homes. In addition, it should not be given to elderly patients with the following conditions:
  • broken bones or body areas that are inflamed, swollen or bruised
  • open or unhealed bed sores
  • varicose veins
  • recent surgery
  • severe acute pain
  • certain heart conditions
  • certain kinds of cancer
  • a history of blood clots (The blood clots may become dislodged and travel to the lungs as a result of massage.)
  • drug treatment with blood thinners (These medications increase the risk of bleeding under the skin.)

Side effects

Geriatric massage is very gentle and rarely causes adverse effects. More vigorous forms of massage, however, have been associated with bleeding in such vital organs as the liver or with the formation of blood clots.

Research & general acceptance

Geriatric massage is gaining acceptance in the medical community. It is being prescribed to elderly patients to improve blood circulation and relieve arthritic symptoms. It is sometimes prescribed for Parkinson’s disease patients to help improve mobility. While most patients have to pay for this service, some insurance companies do reimburse prescribed massage treatment. As of 2000, however, Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for this treatment.

Training & certification

There are 58 school programs accredited by the Commission for Massage Therapy Accreditation/Approval in the United States. The schools provide a minimum of 500 hours of massage training. Certified therapists are graduates of these programs who have passed the national certification examination in therapeutic massage. They are also required to participate in continuing education programs to keep their skills current.