For the next installment in the Benefits of Massage Therapy series, I am going to talk a little bit about massage therapy for people who have been placed on bed rest.
There are many reasons that a person may be placed on bed rest. Usually it is for a medical condition which may be exacerbated by activity, an injury that shouldn't be moved too much at first, or when someone is under observation for a possible condition. Some people are put on full bed rest and aren't allowed to get up, while others are placed on a less strict bed rest where they are to restrict their movements and not get up too much. Some people are required to stay in a hospital or medical facility, while others may remain at home. Regardless of the reason for and amount of bed rest, or where it takes place, some form of touch therapy is a good idea for anyone who has to restrict their movement.
There are many physical benefits that may be experienced from massage therapy while on bed rest. Here are a few of them.
Help to increase circulation and decrease swelling
When placed on bed rest, many people experience decreased circulation and may notice some swelling. A massage therapist can help to increase circulation to muscles and limbs while still being mindful of any conditions that tend to cause high blood pressure. Massage therapists can also perform lymphatic drainage techniques which can help to move some of that fluid back into circulation.
Help with digestion
When you aren't able to move around much, your body is less able to digest your food well. That is why people on bed rest often suffer from symptoms such as heartburn and constipation. Massage therapy is a great help for people with constipation in general, and that extends to clients on bed rest. Abdominal massage is great for helping to promote good bowel movements. If abdominal massage is contraindicated (shouldn't be done), there are some reflexology and acupressure techniques for the feet that can help to aid in digestion. Massage therapy can also help to relieve some of the pressure in the abdominal cavity which may be causing heartburn. This works for people on bed rest or not. Massage therapy also aids in digestion which can increase someone's appetite. People on bed rest often notice a decrease in appetite due to the fact that they aren't digesting the food they have already eaten. This can lead to unhealthy weight loss.
Help with muscle soreness, atrophy, and cramping
When you aren't moving around and using your muscles, they begin to atrophy. Atrophy begins the first day and becomes most severe within 3-7 days. Atrophy is when you lose muscle tone. You don't move your muscles, so they stop working properly. Once your muscles have begun to atrophy, it takes a while to regain muscle tone. Think of movies or TV shows where someone has been asleep or in a coma for a while and they try to stand and fall down. This is because their muscles have atrophied to the point where they can't hold their own weight. Having a massage therapist come it to move you muscles around and provide gentle resisted stretching can help to slow the rate of atrophy. It can also help to decrease some of the pain that comes from inactivity, and reduce the amount of strain or any cramping. Having someone who can help to mobilize your joints is also a great way to help with joint stiffness, and slow the rate of calcium loss from your bones.
Outlet for expressing negative feelings
There are a lot of negative feelings associated with being on bed rest. It is good to voice these, but some people may feel awkward talking about it to people who may feel like they have to wait on them hand and foot. A massage therapist is a great person to talk to. Most of us get good at listening in a nonjudgmental way, and are bound to privacy. We don't discuss our clients or what they talk about during sessions. Some massage therapist also get good at not only listening and not judging, but helping to validate negative feelings in a way that help people to feel better. It is ok to feel resentment, fear, guilt, isolation, dependency, inadequacy, anxiety, and a whole range of other feelings. It is natural to have one or more of those. Having someone to tell you that it is ok, can help you to feel better about it and sometimes it makes it easier to let go of those feelings.
So, massage is great to counteract a lot of the physical side effects of being on bed rest. Now lets look at some of the emotional benefits. Many people who have not experienced bed rest don't understand the emotional toll it can take on a person. So how can massage help?
You may think that someone on bed rest is relaxed. They get to stay in bed all day. But there is a difference between getting to, and having to stay in bed. Having to stay in bed can actually be quite stressful. Massage can help to ease some of this stress. It can also help to alleviate some of the anxiety that comes from not being able to care for yourself or your family, not being able to work and therefore losing an income source, the toll of medical bills and how that may negatively affect your marriage or your ability to support yourself. There may also be a bit of boredom, or an anxiousness to get up and do something. Massage can help to ease some of these mental stresses.
Relief from loneliness
Whether at a hospital or in your own home, if you don't have someone with you for large chunks of time, you may begin to feel lonely. You may also start feeling lonely if the only people who you see are coming to do things like check your vitals or bring you food. Most human beings (even us introverts) require some amount of human contact. Having a massage therapist come in is a great way to get a chance to spend some time with another person. You can feel free to talk during a session, or not. Some people are more able to release when they talk, while others want to just experience the massage in silence. Either way is fine.
What you need to know before getting massage therapy on bed rest
The most important thing you need to do is find a massage therapist who knows how to work with people on bed rest. It is important that they be knowledgable about your condition and techniques which may be contraindicated. Many massage therapists will ask for a doctor's release before working with you. The form that I provide for these clients has my contact information for the doctor so that they can call or email me with any concerns or considerations. It also has a place for doctors to check off positions that are approved, and mention any types of touch therapy that may not be appropriate. Before massaging a client on bed rest, I generally meet with them first to discuss their condition and give them the release form. This also gives me a chance to research anything I am unsure about. Once the release is signed we can schedule a massage.
It is not uncommon to have to alter the way I do massage to fit a specific condition. Depending on what your condition is, some techniques may be contraindicated, however there are not any conditions which prevent the use of all forms of touch therapy. It is important that before you receive your massage, your therapist is familiar with what techniques and therapies are appropriate.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.