Massage therapy for essential tremor: quieting the mind

J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2013 Oct;17(4):488-94. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.03.007. Epub 2013 May 25.


Background: Essential tremor (ET) is a neurological disorder causing rhythmical shaking of part of the body. The condition is known to have an inheritable tendency and can present in more than one family member, known as familial tremor. Treatment of the disorder is commonly by way of prescription medication. ET is progressive and in its mildest form can be sensed and/or observed when performing simple motor skills or activities of daily living (ADL).

Objective: To examine the influence of massage therapy on the severity of ET using an activity-based rating scale pre- and post-treatment.

Methods: The study period included five consecutive weekly sessions. The subject, a 63-year-old female, indicated her hands and head as the primary areas affected by ET. The treatment aim was to reduce sympathetic nervous system firing; therefore, the massage techniques implemented were relaxation-based. Methods included Swedish massage, hydrotherapy, myofascial release, diaphragmatic breathing, remedial exercise education and affirmative symptom management recommendations. Drawings of an Archimedes spiral for comparison pre- and post-treatment provided an objective, visual representation of tremor intensity affecting fine motor control. Goniometric measurements were taken to mark changes in cervical range of motion.

Results: Tremor intensity decreased after each session; demonstrated by improved fine motor skills. The client also reported an increased functionality in cervical range, which was documented during the first and last visits.

Conclusion: The results suggest that tremors, symptomatic to ET, can be eased through initiatives that encourage a parasympathetic response. Massage therapy has shown to be a valuable method of treatment for ET. Tremor severity can present in an irregular pattern due to subjective individual triggers; therefore, further controlled research is required to lessen the variability between subjects and to validate these findings.

Keywords: Familial tremor; Hydrotherapy; Massage; Neurologic disorders; Parasympathetic nervous system; SNS.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies / methods
  • Essential Tremor / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Massage / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Range of Motion, Articular