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High Blood Pressure

December 2017 Issue 7

This blog provides an introduction to high blood pressure and the benefit of massage.

High blood pressure or hypertension results from either (i) faster rate of blood flow by the heart beating faster, (ii) constriction and/or hardening and narrowing of the arteries or (iii) both.

High blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure (where the heart contracts to push blood into the circulation) of 140 mm of mercury or a diastolic pressure ( where the heart is at rest between beats) of 90 mm of mercury or both.

Normal blood pressure is less than 120 mm and less than 80 mm of mercury. The range between 120-139 mm and 80-89 mm of mercury being classified as pre-hypertension.

Of those with hypertension around 85% have no identifiable cause and around 15% are the result of other conditions such as poor kidney function.

Risk factors associated with hypertension are smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, stress, high levels of fats and salt in the diet and age and family history.

Signs, Symptoms and Complications

Hypertension is known as the silent killer as its onset is often symptomless and does not become apparent until complications set in.

Hypertension can lead to hardening of the arteries and, in a two-way process, hardening of the arteries can lead to hypertension. Unchecked this can lead to other conditions such as heart failure, heart attacks, stroke, aneurysm or kidney damage.

Treatment and Management

Treatment is with one or more of an array of antihypertensive medications and management of the risk factors.

Drug therapy can include medications that impact on blood pressure and/or designed to prevent the onset of complications. These include:

Drug class



Increase the removal of salt and water from the blood

Beta blockers

Blocks the effect of adrenalin relaxing the heart

ACE inhibitors

Inhibits the enzyme that constricts blood vessels

Angiotensin II receptor blockers

Blocks the effect of enzyme that constricts blood vessels

Calcium channel blockers

Slows flow of calcium into blood vessel walls and heart muscle and relaxes the blood vessels


Dilates blood vessels lowering blood pressure

Although the above array of medications aim to reduce blood pressure and prevent the onset of complications, they come with an array of side effects. The severity of these side effects varies from individual to individual, but tend to increase with the dosage of the medication.

To help minimise the need for the medications or increases in their dosage and the concomitant side effects, it makes sense to implement self help measures to reduce the risk factors that cause and exacerbate high blood pressure.

Risk factor



The simple answer is to give up smoking. Vaping introduces nicotine into the body which raises blood pressure. Nicotine patches or gum may be an aid to quitting smoking but in the short term is still introducing nicotine into the body.


Obesity and being overweight are risk factors that increase blood pressure. Reducing weight reduces the risk. This does not require extreme diets but rather balanced nutrition to steadily reduce weight.


Even someone who is not obese may not be eating a balanced diet.

Some foodstuffs when taken in large amounts have an adverse impact on blood pressure. Other foodstuffs and minerals and vitamins have beneficial impacts in lowering blood pressure.

Adverse excessive consumption foodstuffs include: salt, caffeine, alcohol. Herbs that raise blood pressure include Aniseed, St. Johns Wort, peppers (green, yellow, orange and red), Parsley, Licorice, Ginger and Ginseng among others.

Beneficial consumption of foodstuffs include:

Vitamins – folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin D

Minerals: potassium (greens, fruits, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds) and magnesium (greens, beans and pulses, seeds, nuts and grains, fish)


Exercising for 30 minutes per day can reduce blood pressure. Walking is very beneficial in this respect. Most urban localities have their version of ‘Walking for Health’ groups. Swimming, cycling or gardening are all good forms of exercise.


Cold weather constricts the arteries and increases blood pressure. To minimise the constriction of arteries and blood vessels in cold weather keep warm: wear thermals, wear a hat, use either a hot water bottle or electric blanket at night, keep the home well heated.

Massage and High Blood Pressure

Various small scale studies indicate that a reduction in systolic and diastolic pressure for those with hypertension receiving massage with one research study showing a reduction in stress hormones in urine and saliva.

A massage therapist needs to conduct a very thorough preliminary consultation for those with high blood pressure as the range of severity can be very diverse from controlled with little complications, various complications (eg heart disease and vascular disease) through to poorly controlled blood pressure.

As hardening and narrowing of the arteries is usually a concomitant with high blood pressure a conservative approach is to be adopted avoiding massage pressure to artery pulse points (especially the carotid arteries).

Massage to the abdomen is contraindicated due to the potential for reflexive action in slowing heart rate and leg arterial dilation.

Poorly controlled blood pressure requires slow even rhythmic massage with gradual transitions to avoid sympathetic activity. Where there are additional risk factors that make it more likely there is also a risk of deep vein thrombosis, then very light pressure and little movement of joints in at risk areas is to be used.

Careful management of risk factors including suitable massage can significantly contribute to the control, stabilisation and reduction of high blood pressure when implemented in combination with an effective treatment regime. With mild high blood pressure an effective treatment and risk management regime can reduce blood pressure and the risk of complications.


Association of Massage Therapists Ltd, “Evidence Based Massage: Stress and Hypertension “ [ Accessed 18 November 2017]

Dharmananda, Subhuti “Safety Issues Affecting Herbs: Herbs That May Increase Blood Pressure” [ Accessed 19 November 2017]

Walton, Tracy (2011) “Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy: A Decision Tree Approach” Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Those with suspected or actual high blood pressure should always consult a doctor.

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Diabetes and Massage

November 2017 Issue 6

This blog provides a brief introduction to diabetes and the benefit of massage. It marks Tuesday 14 November – World Diabetes Day.

There are two types of diabetes:

Type 1 Insulin dependent diabetes Mellitus – where the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Despite there being a general genetic predisposition, onset can occur after a physical or emotional stressful episode. Diabetics with type 1 diabetes need to take regular injections of insulin and comprise around 15% of those with diabetes.

Type 2 Non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus – where the bodies cells develop resistance to insulin despite the pancreas producing the hormone. The resistance to insulin means that cells are unable to transfer glucose from the bloodstream, blood sugars become elevated – the lack of energy in cells leading to fatigue. Type 2 diabetics comprise around 85% of those with diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms

Hyperglycemia – abnormally high blood glucose with symptoms of excessive thirst, hunger and urination. Onset can be gradual.

Hypoglycemia – abnormally low blood sugar with symptoms of irritability, sudden changes of mood, personality or behaviour, slow speech, confusion and poor attention. Low blood sugar can result from an increase in insulin, exercise and delayed meals. Onset is usually sudden and can become an emergency and be fatal if untreated.


High blood glucose for Type 1 can lead to complications due to the burning of fat tissues for energy producing an accumulation of ketones leading to more acidic blood with resultant symptoms of headache, nausea and fatigue. In Type 2 high blood glucose can result from stress caused by an infection resulting in fluid imbalance with dehydration, confusion and lack of consciousness.

Diabetes can also lead to serious chronic conditions such as cardiovascular plaque, nerve damage to the hands and feet, skin issues such as poor healing of wounds, infection and ultimately gangrene, impaired kidney function, thickening of connective tissue and poor immunity to infection.


Diabetic management includes long term aspects such as diet and exercise to maintain blood sugars within a normal range. Type 2 can be reversed with suitable diet and exercise. Type 1 requires regular injections of insulin.

Massage and diabetes

A massage therapist needs to conduct a very thorough preliminary consultation for those with diabetes as the range of severity can be very diverse. This ranges from well managed blood sugar levels with no complications, advanced complications (say, in terms of peripheral neuropathy) and/or poor blood sugar stability with the potential for an acute episode. It is important that current health, possible contraindications and ability to tolerate massage are clearly established. In general, the more advanced the diabetes the more contraindications there will be.

Should a low blood sugar episode occur during or immediately after massage then if it important to ensure that sweets or glucose are consumed; if little recovery after 10 minutes more sweets should be consumed; if no recovery after that then emergency medical help should be sought.

Massaging a local insulin injection site should be avoided within 1 hour of injection. Massage improves blood circulation and therefore the transport of blood sugar around the body – but unlike exercise it does not increase the utilisation of blood sugar.

A major potential complication is cardiovascular disease – heart disease, thinning of the coronary arteries and/or angina. Massage pressure should be adjusted accordingly particularly around the carotid arteries.

One complication of diabetes is potential loss of feeling – particularly in the hands and feet. This is often combined with poor blood circulation in the hands and feet. Massage pressure should be conservative with light pressure.

Another complication is thickening of connective tissue – massage, and myofascial release in particular, can greatly aid elasticity of the muscle tissues and connective tissues and improve the range of mobility.

Depression can arise from the stresses of constant management of diabetes. One study indicates that around 20% of diabetics can have clinical depression. Massage is a major help with relaxation – the release of endorphins calming the nervous system and therefore combating stress. The reduction in stress can assist in achieving control of blood sugar levels. Regular massage can help to alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Careful aftercare is essential for diabetic clients and it is important that a client should be encouraged to rest for a while following massage in the therapists premises to ensure that serious low blood sugar levels do not emerge.

Do you have diabetes? Massage can provide significant benefits to augment your existing diabetes management. Book a massage today on 07504 554936


Huang Y et al (2013) “Collaborative care for patients with depression and diabetes mellitus: a systemic review and meta analysis” BMC Psychiatry, 13:260 [Accessed 13 November 2017]

Rose, Mary Kathleen (2003) “Diabetes” in [Accessed 6 November 2017]

Walton, Tracy (2011) “Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy: A Decision Tree Approach” Lippincott Williams & Wilkins


The impact of diabetes can be serious – consult your doctor if you experience extreme, acute or prolonged symptoms.

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Blog – Stress

November 2017 Issue 5

This blog provides a brief introduction to stress and its physical and emotional impacts. Stress is the bodies response to physical and emotional demands and pressures placed on it. There is short term stress (acute stress) and long term stress (chronic stress).

Immediate, short term stressor usually result in a normal ‘flight or fight’ response. This is where the sympathetic nervous system trigger the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones impact on our body systems to produce a heightened state of alertness to help us cope with the immediate stressor. Impacts include faster heart rate, dilated pupils, release of glucose into the bloodstream to provide immediate energy and blood is diverted from the digestive system to the muscles. Once the stressor has gone the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of endorphins to calm the body back to its normal state.

Chronic or long term stress, however, is a situation where the heightened state remains in the ‘on’ position and the ‘off’ switch to restore a normal state does not appear to function. The constant impact of the adrenaline and cortisol has an adverse effect on the heart, digestive system and immune system.

Long term stress can be triggered by ongoing situations including problems in the workplace, family and financial difficulties to name a few.

The UK Labour Force Survey states that around 1.5% of workers had work related stress in 2015/16 resulting in 11.7 million lost working days – 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.


Self help ideas

Have a clear sense of purpose – this provides meaning whether it is spirituality, family, help others or work.

Work/life balance – prioritise time and energy based on what is important

Sleep – insufficient sleep impacts on many body systems including the digestive system and impacts on the ability to focus and concentrate

Healthy eating – eating the right types of food in the right quantities. A Mediterranean diet generally is rich in protein and vegetables and lower in carbohydrates compared to the average UK diet.

Support – getting support from family, friends and work colleagues can help reduce stress.

Exercise – regular exercise such as walking, sports or the gym has a key impact on how the body deals with hormones in terms of eliminating stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol or promoting hormones such as endorphins that provide that feel good factor.


Massage and stress reduction

There are now many research studies showing the dramatic impact massage can have on reducing stress in a number of different contexts – whether work-related or health condition specific.

Massage not only reduces the levels of cortisol but also releases endorphins that calms the nervous system and also releases the ‘happy’ hormones serotonin and dopamine.

Regular massage helps the body to maintain normal hormonal function in relation to stress hormones and endorphins.

When was your last massage to reduce stress and lift your mood? Book a massage today on 07504 554936


The impact of chronic stress can be serious – consult your doctor if you experience constant stress for a prolonged period.

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Chocolate: the Health Benefits

October 2017 Issue 4

Most people like chocolate but to what extent do we understand the health implications of eating chocolate? There are benefits and there are risks – but what are they?

Chocolate is made from a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar. There are three broad categories of chocolate – white, milk and dark.

White chocolate is made from sugar, milk and cocoa butter but no cocoa solids.

Milk chocolate is made from sugar, milk and cocoa solids. In the UK the minimum percentage of cocoa solids is 20% and in the rest of the EU is it 25%.

Dark chocolate, also known as plain chocolate, is made from cocoa solids and cocoa butter – although there are versions with a proportion of milk. It generally has at least 35% cocoa solids can can rise to 95% or even 99%.

Health implications

White and milk chocolate cannot make health claims.

Dark chocolate – especially where with cocoa solids are 65%-70% or higher – contains compounds that do have beneficial impacts on health including:

  1. beneficial minerals – such as potassium, zinc, selenium, iron and magnesium.

  2. flavonoids which act as an antioxidant protecting the body and especially the heart from free radicals. Flavonoids also help lower blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol

  3. phenylethylamine which stimulates the production of endorphins providing a feeling of pleasure

  4. serotonin – which acts as an anti-depressant

  5. theobromine, caffeine and other compounds that are stimulants

Dark chocolate contains three types of fat. Each type of fat accounts for around a third of the fat and they are:

  1. Oleic acid: a healthy monounsaturated fat

  2. Stearic Acid: a saturated fat that has a neutral effect on cholesterol

  3. Palmitic Acid: a saturated fat that raises cholesterol

So around one third of the fat in dark chocolate may pose a risk of raising cholesterol.

One note is to avoid drinking milk when eating the few squares of dark chocolate – as the milk could prevent the absorption of the antioxidants in your body.

In conclusion, a small amount of dark chocolate contains compounds and minerals that are beneficial on many levels while some palmitic acid which can raise cholesterol is somewhat offset by the cholesterol lowering effect of the flavonoids. The key is moderation.

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Changing Times

October 2017 Issue 3

The clocks move back one hour on Saturday night 28 October – marking darker evenings and for a few short weeks lighter mornings.

Although this provides an opportunity for an extra hours sleep it does change sleep patterns and circadian rhythm. This in turn impacts on the release of hormones that affect moods, hunger, alertness, sleep and cluster headaches.

The extent of the impact depends on an individuals health, sleep pattern and lifestyle. There can be significant individual variation in adapting to the change in clocks moving back an hour. Some may experience a decline in performance, concentration, memory, sleepiness and fatigue.

As shorter days progress the general reaction is rather negative – less daylight and sunlight and colder days. The lack of sunlight means vitamin D becomes depleted which can lead to fatigue. In some cases this can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) lowering mood and in extreme cases major melancholy. US estimates suggest 20% of people can be affected by SAD in the months with shorter days. Massage therapy can help those with SAD in reducing depression, increasing relaxation, boosting mood and improving immune function.

Tips for self help

The following actions can help in adaptation and also beat the winter blues:

  1. reducing the intake of caffeine and alcohol

  2. exercising several hours before going to bed

  3. indulge in calming events before bed such as a hot bath

  4. light carbohydrates may make it easier to fall asleep

  5. some may benefit from ear plugs and eye masks

  6. rise earlier to benefit from the morning light

  7. eat vitamin D rich foods (eg fish, egg yokes and beef liver) or consider vitamin D supplements

  8. obtain and use a SAD lamp

  9. have massage when the clocks change and regular massage thereafter

Get a relaxing massage and adapt to the clock change faster and stave off the impact of shorter days. Book on 07504 554936

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Muscle Tension

September 2017 – Issue 2

Everyone has experienced muscle tension. Many people, however, experience muscle tension on a regular basis – even to the extent that they are not fully aware of just how tense their muscles are.

Muscular tension can result from heavy physical work, stressful jobs, repetitive strain of the hands and wrists using computers, poor posture and poor movement.

Specific areas prone to muscular tension are the upper back, shoulders and neck. This can result in headaches, joint pain and even cramps.

Stress can produce tension and tension can reinforce stress. When this two way impact persists over time it can lead to anxiety and a situation where adrenaline and cortisol levels are routinely abnormally high. This in turn can lead to digestive issues, inflammation and reduced immunity.

There are various steps an individual can take to reduce and cut out muscle tension. A few are warm baths, applying heat to the affected area and stretching. Magnesium spray can significantly benefit and reduce the incidence of muscle cramps.

Massage – especially with slow, smooth gliding rhythmical strokes can both stretch and relax the muscles and ease away muscular tension. Massage provides the release of endorphins – the feel good hormone – and helps breathing and lifts mood and feelings.

Regular massage – say once a month – helps re-educate muscles to be more relaxed in situations of stress and can aid improved posture and reduce pain.

Modern lifestyle is more ‘living in your head’ compared with the past – think computer games, television, internet, smartphones and the like. Regular massage can reinforce your connection with your own body and help raise awareness that there is a need to carefully look after our own bodies to promote health and wellbeing.

Do you look after the only physical body you have? When was your last massage to ease muscular tension and lift your mood?

Go to my website and subscribe to my newsletter – it tips to help you gain and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. (NB Use the form for the competition – but you do not have to enter the answer to the competition in order to subscribe).

My introductory offer of extending your first booked session by 50% runs until the end of October. Book on 07504 554936

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massage therapy

Face and hand massage

August 2017 – Issue 1

Welcome to my inaugural blog to mark the launch of Mark Rigby Therapies. Today I am going to talk about face and hand massage as well as a little bit about how I became a massage therapist.

Face and hand massage is incredibly relaxing – even stunningly so. Our faces and hands contain more – a lot more – nerve endings than most other parts of the body; this means they readily respond to massage touch.

Taking early retirement from HMRC, I decided to take a holiday in the Algarve in Portugal. I had not had a decent holiday for years. While there I had my first ever massage and was pleasantly surprised with how I felt afterwards and the lasting benefit. I have been hooked ever since.

Knowing the personal benefits of massage, I was able to appreciate the benefits for others. This led me to sign up for a course in Swedish massage followed by a course in Indian head massage.

A hand and arm massage can relieve muscular stress in the fingers, thumbs and wrists resulting from regular use of a computer keyboard or smartphone virtual keypad.

The first time I received a massage that included face I was astonished at the dramatic impact finger touch massage has on the face. Knowing how remarkably it benefits me, providing face and hand massage is one of my favourite components in offering a therapy session.

If you have never had face and hand massage as part of a massage therapy give it a try – hopefully you will love it as much as I do.

Being mobile I can provide full body massage or Indian head massage in the comfort of your own home.

I am running a free to enter competition with a chance to win massages. Answer the simple question ‘In what year did Portsmouth become a unitary local authority?’ (clue: take a look at unitary authorities England on wiki) – and fill out the entry form on First prize is a full body massage and second and third prizes are Indian head massage. The competition closing date is 26 September.

I am also making an introductory offer of extending your first booked session by 50% during September and October. Book now on 07504 554936 to make sure you benefit from this excellent value offer.

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