Got Arthritis? Get Massage Therapy!

Got Arthritis? Get Massage Therapy!

Massage therapy offers many health benefits, but can it ease the joint pain of arthritis? Discover what’s proven to work best, and what should you know about massage therapy for arthritis.

My client, Mrs. D, a middle-aged homemaker, uses massage for the muscle pain that accompanies joint flare-ups. Another patient, a college student says massage calms the tension and stress of her chronic pain.

Massage, whether conducted in a softly lit day spa or a treatment room at a physical therapy clinic, is something many people use to soothe sore joints and muscles, to ease anxiety or to help them sleep better. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, reports that massage is one of the most popular complementary therapies used by Americans, with close to nine percent of adults using it. Until recently, little was known about why massage seemed to work, but recent research suggests that massage can affect the body’s production of certain hormones linked to blood pressure, anxiety, heart rate and other key vital signs. But is massage safe and effective for people with arthritis?

Massage and Arthritis

Regular massage of muscles and joints, whether by a licensed therapist or by self-massage at home, can lead to significant pain reduction for arthritis patients, according to Tiffany Field, PhD. As director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, Dr. Field has conducted studies on the benefits of massage for arthritis. Her research and other studies on massage for arthritis, regular massage therapy led to improvements in pain, stiffness, range of motion, hand grip strength and overall joint function.

For example, a 2006 study by University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, examined 68 adults with knee osteoarthritis receiving two Swedish massages per week for eight weeks, compared to a group who received no massage. The massage group reported significant improvements in knee pain, stiffness, function, range of motion and walking.

Massage also benefits people with painful hand or wrist arthritis, Field concluded in another 2006 study. Twenty-two adults with hand or wrist arthritis were given four weekly massages from a therapist and taught to massage their joints daily at home. Just a 15-minute, moderate pressure massage per day led to reduced pain and anxiety, and increased grip strength for the participants as measured on comparative pre- and post-therapy tests.

Most people who try complementary therapies, including massage, do so to address back and neck pain, according to a 2007 NCCAM report. A number of studies confirm the effectiveness of massage for back and neck pain, including one published in 2011 in the Annals of Internal Medicine that looked at the effectiveness of massage therapy on 401 people with chronic low back pain. The researchers found that massage did reduce their pain, and the benefits lasted at least six months. They also concluded that the type of massage wasn’t that important – different types worked about the same.

“Massage is free of any known side effects and according to our results, clearly shows therapeutic promise,” said senior investigator David L. Katz, MD, associate adjunct professor at Yale School of Medicine. “Massage is important when conventional treatments are far from ideal. NSAIDs are often not well-tolerated. Cox-II inhibitors like Vioxx were developed as substitutes for traditional anti-inflammatory drugs, but pose toxicity problems.”

Sources: Susan Bernstein: arthritistoday.org;

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *