In recent years, we’ve made great strides both in making our society more inclusive to those with disabilities and in helping those with disabilities achieve a better quality of life. This has included advancements in assistive technology, improvements in education, and new therapies designed to face some of the physical and cognitive issues they face. One such therapy is massage therapy.
Massage therapy is used for various reasons from reducing recovery time from sports injuries to simple relaxation. Because there are so many types of disabilities and even more challenges associated with them, the benefits of massage for people with disabilities of all kinds are worth noting.
Muscle Tension and Spasticity
For those who are wheelchair-bound or are needing to compensate for an injured or missing limb, muscle tension becomes a part of everyday life. Beyond tension due to the condition itself, sitting in a wheelchair can cause lower body muscles to become stiff or weak due to underuse while the upper body and back muscles to become strained from overuse. This tension can lead to chronic pain.
For conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscle stiffness goes beyond tension from extensive use or lack thereof. Muscle spasticity is a condition that causes the muscles to stiffen an extent where normal movement becomes difficult or even impossible. This can also lead to chronic pain and loss of motor function.
Massage targets these issues by working with the muscles, reducing tension, breaking up knots, and improving circulation to these areas. Working these muscles also helps promote greater flexibility and range of motion, which is especially important for those with muscle spasticity. Massage also helps increase endorphin production which can help reduce pain.
Joint hypermobility syndromes involve having joints that are more flexible than normal and is associated with several other physical symptoms such as:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Fatigue (even after rest)
- Recurring injuries
- Easily dislocated joints
- “Stretchy” or thin skin
Although not always stemming from a disability, joint hypermobility is woven in with several other disorders such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Some research also suggests there may be links between joint hypermobility and autism spectrum disorders, though research is still ongoing.
The main benefit of massage for joint hypermobility is pain relief. Massage helps work out any tension or pain in the muscles without being too harsh on the joints. However, it’s important to note the relaxing nature of massage does tend to make the receiver tired afterward, meaning those prone to fatigue, such as those with joint hypermobility, should consider the timing of their massages.
Many physical disabilities that impact mobility also impact balance, such as multiple sclerosis. Massage can help improve the strength of leg and foot muscles, aiding the improvement of balance impediments. But for some conditions, loss of balance doesn’t stem from physically being unable to stand but rather sudden dizziness or vertigo. Massage can help reduce these symptoms by releasing muscle tension and reduce anxiety which may contribute to these feelings.
Immune System Health
Immunodeficiency disorders are considered disabilities. Not only that, but many disabilities are associated with a weakened immune system such as multiple sclerosis, autism, and diabetes. Even conditions that don’t directly impact the immune system, such as cerebral palsy, can cause other issues that may lead to a compromised immune system.
Fortunately, massages have a positive effect on the immune system. It helps increase the production of cells that help fight disease as well as reduce the hormone cortisol which tends to suppress immune system functions. Massages also helps improve circulation, which helps your body flush out toxins and other illnesses while moving white blood cells into the system.
Body awareness, or interoception, describes one’s ability to recognize both how a body physically takes up space and the needs of the body. This includes recognizing sensations such as hunger and cold. There are a number of disabilities that may impair one’s body awareness, most notably autism. Regular massages can help improve one’s awareness of their own body and physical sensation.
It’s easy to see the benefits of massage for people with disabilities that impact their physical health, but what of disabilities that primarily impact emotional or cognitive health? Those with cognitive-based disabilities (and many with physical ones) are often more susceptible to anxiety and stress than others. As mentioned, massage helps to reduce cortisol in the body, and cortisol causes stress. Along with this, it naturally increases the production of feel-good hormones to reduce anxiety.
Insomnia plagues individuals with a plethora of physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities. These sleep troubles may be associated with physical pain, tension, or anxiety, and the traits already mentioned can use massages to combat those challenges. Massage helps reduce pain and tension in the muscles, helping them to relax. Along with that, it helps to reduce anxiety by increasing the production of feel-good hormones including serotonin, which specifically helps improve sleep.
One little known benefit of massage is its impact on concentration. Massage helps release tension in the shoulders and neck, allowing better blood flow to the brain. Stress also negatively impacts the brain’s ability to focus, so the stress-reducing nature of massage helps the brain reach a state more conducive to good focus. This is especially helpful for those with learning disabilities.
Therapist or Massage Products
Well-trained massage therapists can respond to the specific needs of those being treated. However, the presence of a therapist is what makes massage therapy a challenging option for some individuals with disabilities. Those with sensitivity to touch, such as those with autism spectrum disorders, are often opposed to people getting too close. However, that doesn’t mean these individuals have to be shut out of massage’s benefits.
By utilizing massage products such as massage chairs, handheld massagers, and foot massagers, individuals can reap many of the same benefits of massage as one would with a human masseuse. Our massage therapy products provide quality massages to every individual.