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Over the years, I have found that ensuring the best physiotherapy care for seniors often involves ensuring they have access to several different kinds of treatment.  I am not alone in recognizing the benefits of this multi-disciplinary approach; many health clinics (for clients of all ages) now include a variety of healthcare professionals working together to optimize the health of their clients.  

When assessing an area for dysfunction, physiotherapists typically look at body position, joint range of motion, muscle strength, muscle length, and special tests that tell us about the health of the tissues within the joints themselves.  Physiotherapy treatment plans vary widely depending on the condition but very often they involve addressing issues found in the assessment to restore normal mobility to an area.  

Physiotherapy care for seniors regularly includes improving joint flexibility and muscle flexibility.  Physiotherapists can use their hands (manual therapy) to help a joint move better and we regularly prescribe stretching exercises for tight muscles.  However, for seniors, loss of joint mobility can be due to underlying issues like osteoarthritis or a previous injury like frozen shoulder.  In these cases, stretching the muscles without causing further joint pain and injury can be difficult.  This can cause a cycle of progressively increasing joint and muscle tightness as they each begin to restrict each other.  

This is one instance (of many) where I believe massage therapy can play a key role in improving the impact of physiotherapy care for seniors.  Therapeutic massage therapy is not just a gentle kneading of the muscles.  It involves assessing the muscles (and other soft tissues) for dysfunction and using specific techniques to improve the tissues’ ability to lengthen.  The key factor here is that massage therapy techniques can often improve muscle function without needing to put the joints into their full range of motion.  

A great example of where I’ve seen this be helpful is when a treatment plan includes addressing posture.  Seniors with neck, upper back, and shoulder pain often have an underlying issue with their posture contributing to the problem.  This can include joint stiffness in the neck, upper back, and shoulders; muscle tightness through the chest (pectoral) muscles is also a common problem.  In many instances, the shoulders lack the mobility necessary to get a safe, comfortable, effective stretch of the chest muscles.  With the addition of massage therapy care, chest muscle flexibility can be improved without causing excessive strain to the shoulders.  This helps maximize movement in the shoulders and back.  It also increases the effectiveness of the postural strengthening exercises that are integral in effective physiotherapy care for seniors.

The addition of massage therapy to the plan can help ensure optimal results are reached with physiotherapy care for seniors.  It should be considered a valuable tool in the toolbox for helping seniors achieve optimal comfort and function so that they can continue enjoying all the activities they love.

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