Massage Therapy for Stroke Recovery


A stroke can impact a person’s ability to participate in their lives in the ways they want to. There can be physical challenges, communication challenges and emotional challenges. Recovery can be a long and difficult process, and many will never recover to the level they were at before the stroke. People recovering from a stroke may suffer from increased stress or anxiety, they may have decreased muscle function which makes it more difficult to move the way they used to, or they may experience chronic pain post-stroke. Massage therapy is one option, which can be added to the usual care after a stroke, to help people who have had a stroke relieve some of their symptoms.

Improved Function

Sensorimotor function (the process of receiving sensory messages (sensory input) and producing a response (motor output) can be impaired for a year or longer after a stroke, making daily activities more difficult and potentially damaging independence. Massage therapy as a part of stroke recovery can help people improve their muscle function and continue to participate in their regular activities.

Specifically, massage therapy has been found to be helpful in improving upper and lower limb function and decreasing spasticity. An exercise routine, which can be recommended by an RMT, can also help people who have had a stroke improve their function and mobility, and reduce their risk of falls.

Mental Health

Anxiety is common after a stroke, which can also lead to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Post-stroke insomnia can have a negative impact on a patient’s recovery after a stroke, and their overall quality of life, which can be a contributor to increased anxiety. Massage therapy can be effective at reducing the symptoms of post-stroke insomnia, which ultimately can improve overall quality of life.

Massage therapy can help decrease post-stroke patients’ overall anxiety levels and also improve their overall sense of well-being. Particularly, hand or foot massage has been found to help people experience a sense of relaxation, which can reduce feelings of anxiety after a stroke. Post-stroke depression is also fairly common and can impact a patient’s recovery as well as potentially increase their risk of future strokes. Massage therapy can relieve symptoms relating to depression which also helps improve quality of life.


Pain after a stroke is common, with many people experiencing regular headaches after a stroke, shoulder pain, or muscle pain potentially related to stiffness or spasm. Active exercise, which can be recommended by an RMT can help manage spasticity after a stroke, which can often lead to pain relief. Massage therapy can also help to decrease headache frequency and intensity, and help people relieve their shoulder pain.

It’s also fairly common for people to develop chronic pain after the acute phase of a stroke, which can be moderate to severe in intensity. Chronic pain can have a significant negative impact on quality of life for people after a stroke. Massage therapy can help people with chronic pain reduce their pain frequency and intensity.

Part of Recovery

Stroke is the leading cause of disability worldwide. A multidisciplinary approach to stroke recovery is recommended with a variety of professionals, including massage therapists working together to ensure the patients get the best possible outcomes. Massage therapy can be part of a treatment plan to help people who have had a stroke reduce their pain, improve their function, and decrease their overall levels of anxiety. This can help people who have had a stroke improve their quality of life.


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