Updated: May 22, 2021
Massage is a non-invasive complementary therapy that can be used as part of a holistic approach to help manage the symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause. With many physical and emotional benefits regular massage therapy can be supportive and therapeutic to help women through this significant stage in their lives and beyond without the side effects of conventional medicinal treatments.
The menopause is the natural time in a woman’s life when periods come to an end. In the UK, usually a woman’s periods end between the ages of 45-55, with the average age being 51. However, 1 in 100 women reach menopause before the age of 40, known as premature menopause, or premature ovarian failure.
Menopause can be a challenging time for many women especially during the peri-menopause, the time leading up to the menopause. Fluctuating hormone levels and a reduction in oestrogen can cause a whole variety of symptoms including:
Irregular or absent periods
Depression, low mood & anxiety
Vaginal dryness & reduced libido
Memory & concentration problems
Help is available through conventional medicine in the form of HRT. Other medications may also be prescribed for such things as hot flushes and mood changes (i.e. antidepressants). However, as with all medication, they are not without the risk of side-effects. HRT in particular can cause breast tenderness, headaches and vaginal bleeding. It also increases the risk of blood clots and breast cancer in some women.
Darsareh et al carried out a study on the effects of aromatherapy massage on the symptoms of menopause. Ninety women took part in the study who were randomised into three groups: an aromatherapy massage group that received a 30-minute aroma oil massage twice a week for four weeks, a massage placebo group that received the same massage treatments but with a plain oil and a control group that received no treatments at all.
Before the study began, each participant rated their menopause symptoms using a Menopause Rating Scale. The average rating at the beginning of the study did not differ between the different groups however post-hoc analysis showed that women in both the aromatherapy massage group and the placebo massage group had lower Menopause Rating Scales (i.e. their menopause symptoms had reduced) in comparison to those who had received no treatments at all. Furthermore, symptoms had reduced more significantly in the women who had received the aromatherapy massage.
Another study carried out by Oliveira et al focussed on how massage can benefit postmenopausal women with insomnia. Seven postmenopausal women with difficulty in falling asleep or insomnia symptoms at least 3 times per week were selected for the trial. Exclusions included those with sleep apnea, use of anti-depressants or the use of sleep-inducing aids. The participants were questioned before the trial began and after each massage to self-evaluate their levels of anxiety and depression and sleeping habits, including the characteristics and quality of sleep.
Evaluation of analysis after the trial showed that there was a significant decrease in their levels of anxiety and depression, as shown by the decreasing line graphs in figures 1, 2 & 3:
A Sleep Diary maintained by all participants showed that through the course of the massage therapy treatments, all fell asleep more rapidly, had a gradual improvement in the quality of sleep and woke up feeling better. Furthermore, a polysomnography monitoring sleep showed a decrease in sleep latency (time to fall sleep) and an increase in sleep stages 3 & 4, i.e. deep sleep (table 1).
So how does massage help menopausal symptoms?
As shown in the study by Oliveira et al, regular massage therapy can help reduce any sleep related symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause by reducing the time that it takes to get to sleep and increasing the quality and length of deep sleep. In another study by Zhou et al, massage therapy was shown to have a significant improvement in 96% of people with insomnia.
Another study by Field et al showed that massage therapy decreases our levels of cortisol (stress hormone) by an average of 31% and increases our levels of serotonin and dopamine (the feel-good hormones) by an average of 28% and 31% respectively. During peri-menopause and menopause, women are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and regular massage can therefore help alleviate these symptoms by reducing stress, boosting feel-good hormones and restoring feelings of being able to cope.
As many women can’t take HRT, or simply want to manage the symptoms of menopause naturally, massage is a fantastic therapy to incorporate into other lifestyle changes. Throughout this period of significant change, regular massage therapy ensures that women are taking time for themselves, taking time to relax, both mentally and physically, and benefiting from the therapeutic and supportive help that massage can provide.
Is is important, however, that women choose a Complementary Health Practitioner that has had the appropriate level of training to enable membership to the voluntary government regulator for complementary healthcare in the UK, the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council. This is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority and set up by the government to improve standards and safety for the benefit of the public.
Vicky Barbour May 2021
Darsareh, F, et al, 2021, Effect of aromatherapy massage on menopausal symptoms: a randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, PMID: 22549173, doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e318248ea16
Field, T, et al, 2005, Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy, University of Miami School of Medicine, PMID: 16162447, doi: 10.1080/00207450590956459
NHS, 2021, menopause, available at www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/sexual-and-reproductive/menopause
NHS, 2020, managing the menopause without hormones PDF, available at http://flipbooks.leedsth.nhs.uk/LN001794.pdf
Oliveria, D, et al, 2011, Effect of massage in postmenopausal women with insomnia – A pilot study, Sao Paulo Clinic, 66(2): 343-346, doi 10.1590/S1807-593220110002000026
Zhou, Y, et al, 2006, Multi-central controlled study on three-part massage therapy for treatment of insomnia of deficiency of both the heart and spleen, Hospital of Henan TCM University, 26:385-8