Geriatric Massage Therapy

In the United States, senior citizens make up roughly 16.8% of the population. By 2034, the Census Bureau estimates that people over 65 will outnumber those under 18. Geriatric massage therapy can have significant benefits for senior adults. However, massage therapists should be familiar with the precautions and adaptation needed to serve this community.

Recommended course: Working with Clients with Health Problems  

What happens to the body as it ages?  

Skin: As people age, their skin becomes thinner. Thin skin is more susceptible to tearing. Be aware of the strokes you’re using during your massage. Long, gliding strokes with deeper pressure are not advisable, since they can cause tearing.   

Using lighter pressure, along with a more emollient lotion, is a better approach when working with this skin type. Emollient lotion can also help with dry skin conditions common in aging skin.   

Hearing: Loss of hearing is common in senior adults. Here are a few considerations when working with clients experiencing hearing loss.   

  • When conducting your client intake, make sure that you’re looking directly at them when speaking. This way, they can read your lips in addition to hearing your words.  
  • Hearing aids can emit a squealing sound. If a client has a cochlear implant, you’ll want to adapt your scalp massage to avoid that area.   

Musculoskeletal: The musculoskeletal system undergoes many changes during aging. Muscles and tendons stiffen. Bones become more brittle. Joints can become inflamed.  

This will indicate many adaptations to pressure, range of motion and positioning during the massage sessions.   


Osteopenia is defined as a loss of bone density, and osteoporosis is an advanced form of osteopenia, literally meaning “porous bone.” The decrease in density can make the client more susceptible to fractures. If a client presents with this condition, you will want to adjust your pressure during the massage session. Too deep of a pressure with this type of client can cause a fracture to the bone.   

When conducting in intake with a client who has osteopenia/osteoporosis, consider the following questions:  

  • Have you had your bone density measured?   
  • Do you know the amount of bone loss that you have?  
  • Have you experienced any loss of height?  

Other symptoms to look for include kyphosis in the upper thoracic spine, back pain, shortness of breath.  

Diabetes mellitus  

According to the American Diabetes Association, over 29.2% of Americans over 65 have diabetes. That translates to 15.9 million seniors. Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels, resulting in high blood sugar.  

Common signs and symptoms of diabetes will include the need to excessively urinate, increased thirst, tingling skin, and blurry vision. Some clients may experience neuropathy in the extremities, kidney failure, and problems with vision.   

A 2019 study found that Swedish massage, foot massage, and relaxation massage are all beneficial to elderly clients living with diabetes. Among other benefits, geriatric massage therapy can help increase circulation. Increased circulation can help the body utilize glucose and insulin. Geriatric massage therapy may also reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.  

When working with a diabetic client, you may want to ask them what their current blood sugar levels are. If they take insulin injections, you’ll want to know the location of injection site. If they check their blood sugar by drawing blood from their fingertips, you will want to know the sensitivity level.   


Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, causing pain and swelling. This is a common condition that affects elderly clients. Typically, arthritis can be found in the joints of the fingers. A client’s knuckle joints may appear large, knob-like, red, and swollen.   

Studies have shown that massage, in conjunction with other treatments, can help reduce pain, increase circulation and range of motion to the joints. Be sure to ask your client if they have any joint damage or current injuries. Knowing their pain level and range of motion within the effected joint will help you tailor your massage to meet their needs. Remember to inform your client of the importance of drinking water post-massage to help reduce inflammation.