Middle aged woman using the leg press machine in a gym

Massage and the menopause

Menopause and perimenopause have moved from being seen as taboo subjects to being widely discussed in the media. TV programmes like Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause, and campaigners like Kate Muir and Dr Louise Newsome have brought this subject into the public eye more than ever before.

But although women are better informed, this journey can still feel isolating and frustrating, with a lack of real world support and a postcode lottery affecting what treatments are offered for troubling symptoms. So can massage and soft tissue therapy be part of the way that you deal with your perimenopausal issues? I believe that they can.

The Biopsychosocial Approach to Perimenopause: A Holistic Perspective

When dealing with pain or injury, soft tissue therapists such as myself follow the biopsychosocial model. What this means is that as well as looking at what is happening within the body, we are looking at our clients’ state of mind, and the way that external factors are affecting their experience.

So, take the example of a woman in perimenopause suffering with a painful back - we would look at: 

BIOLOGICAL - What is the mechanism behind this problem?

How have this woman’s muscles, tendons and ligaments been affected? Where will we work to lengthen and relax shortened muscles, and where do we need to strengthen? Is oestrogen depletion playing a role here, exacerbating inflammation? Will this woman’s recovery time be affected?

PSYCHOLOGICAL - What is this woman’s mental state?

Is she struggling to sleep due to menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats? Is she feeling low or anxious? We all know that being sleep deprived, or simply feeling low, can make everything seem harder to cope with. Can we help to mitigate some of these symptoms?

SOCIAL - What else is happening in this woman’s life?

Is she trying to care for both children and older relatives, hold down a job, run a home, and generally exist while feeling the need to be in three places at once? High levels of stress like this will once again affect both levels of inflammation within the body, and our perception of pain - it’s hard to stay positive when under chronic stress. What can we do to help? 

Mother and daughter wearing sportswear and running in forest

Massage can help with all of these factors. By helping to shift the nervous system from a ‘fight or flight’ state to a ‘rest and digest’ state, levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are reduced, and recovery and rest are improved. By reducing cortisol levels in the bloodstream, massage can help to calm inflammation, reducing perceived pain. Massage promotes improved circulation, again aiding healing.

The Benefits of Massage for Managing Perimenopausal Symptoms

Massage has been found to help with sleep. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which prompts the body to move into a relaxed state.

Even short massages at a moderate pressure have been shown to have an effect. As the parasympathetic nervous system begins to work, the heart rate slows, the digestive system begins to work, and the blood pressure falls. Levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream fall, and instead the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are released, giving a sense of wellbeing and relaxation.

The pituitary gland releases oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘love’ hormone, further increasing wellbeing levels and relaxation. Massage is a way of telling our bodies that it’s safe to relax and that there’s no danger present - allowing us to wind down and become more ready for rest and sleep.  

Perhaps most valuable of all, a massage is protected time, where you can relax and have no expectations placed upon you. The phone will be silenced; the table, towels and blankets soft and welcoming; the temperature comfortable. It is a safe space, where you can reconnect to your body and feel emotionally supported on your journey into a new era of your life.

Author Hannah Tabram. Category Blog. First published Tue, 02 May 2023 18:24:33 +0100