When Ella Williams was a member of her college's track team, a massage was part of her weekly routine.
Forty years later, Williams said she's no longer running long distances — just neighborhood jogs and lots of walking.
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But she continues to reap the rewards of a good rubdown.
Twice a month, the 62-year-old Hagerstown woman puts her body in the hands of a massage therapist.
"At my age, it's not a luxury," she said. "It's a necessity. I want to remain active but my muscles have become a lot tighter. A half-hour on the table works wonders."
Williams is among a growing number of senior citizens who are making regular appointments for a massage.
A 2008 survey by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) showed that more than 47 million American adults received a massage. The largest increase was among people older than 60.
And while many devotees know a massage can be relaxing, the survey noted that more than 40 percent used massage to improve their health and well-being.
"Massage can benefit the older adult in so many ways," said Antionette Ayers, a licensed massage therapist with The Bodyworks Massage Center on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown.
"It can improve circulation, loosen the tightness in muscles, warm the joints and help calm you," she said.
Since joining Bodyworks in 2008, Ayers said she has seen "quite a few more seniors coming in for a massage. Many people are trying it for the first time. But we also have regulars who come in twice a month."
Ayers, who is a graduate of the New York Institute of Massage Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., practices Swedish, deep tissue, myofascial, prenatal, hot stone and onsite, seated-chair massage.
The chair massage often is good for seniors who have some physical disabilities and are unable to position themselves on a table, she said.
Massage therapy for senior citizens doesn't differ in technique but it does differ in application of that technique, says the AMTA. The skin of older adults usually becomes thinner and joints are stiffer with reduced range of mobility. Overall health and vitality also are considerations.
Most massages for senior citizens are limited to less than one hour and greater time is usually spent on massaging hands and feet, especially with those seniors who are wheelchair-bound or have arthritis.
According to the AMTA, a massage therapist can use gentle techniques such as tapping and light kneading to mobilize tender muscles, tendons and joints.
Massage therapy helps reduce inflammation-related pain around joints, according to the AMTA, promoting the restoration of range of motion. Improved range of motion can enhance a person's ability to perform regular daily activities, which in turn can lead to increased independence and a higher quality of life.
The Mayo Clinic reports that improved circulation is one of the principle benefits of massage therapy. Healthy circulation of blood and lymph is especially important as a person ages and reduced circulation is particularly problematic for diabetics.
And, Ayers said, for people who have sleeping problems, a massage can help relax them.