If you are among an estimated one in five adults living with arthritis, there’s something you should know: massage therapy really works for relief of arthritis pain. Two recent studies involving arthritis of the hands and knees each concluded that massage therapy was beneficial.
Proven Arthritis Pain Relief
In 2006, the Touch Research Institute conducted a trial over four weeks for adults who had arthritis pain of the wrist and/or hand. Participants were assigned randomly to a control group for standard treatment or a massage therapy group. The latter participants got professional massage on the affected wrist/hand once a week, and were instructed to perform daily self-massage. The conclusion: the arthritis massage therapy group showed a lower level of anxiety, less pain and greater grip strength than the control group.
An article in the December 2006 Archives of Internal Medicine reports clinical findings from a similar study on osteoarthritis of the knee. Patients undergoing regular massage therapy reported less stiffness and pain and noted increased physical function in their knees.
How Massage Therapy Works
Several things happen during massage that provide particular benefit to arthritis pain sufferers:
• Joints are loosened when adhesions in muscles or ligaments are broken up
• The production of synovial fluid is stimulated, thus providing additional cushioning
• Production of natural pain-killing endorphins increases
• Spasms which cause muscle pain are reduced
Additionally, research shows that massage has overall positive effects on the body:
• Stress hormone production decreases
• Immune function is improved
• Sleep is more continuous
• Blood pressure decreases
Massage Techniques for Arthritis
Swedish- This is the kind most people think of when they hear “massage.” It involves gentle joint manipulation along with stroking, kneading and light pressure on muscles at the surface.
Deep Tissue- A deeper working of the muscles as the name implies, this technique uses slow, deep movements to remove tension in muscles. Your therapist should ask how hard you would like to be worked, and be willing to make adjustments throughout your massage.
Myofascial- The fascia is connective tissue surrounding muscles which is relaxed with the long, stretching strokes of this technique.
Trigger Point- Focused finger pressure is used to relax knots of tension that can inject pain in other parts of the body.
Reflexology- Distinct areas on the palms, soles of the feet and/or ears are rubbed to relieve tension in other parts of the body to which they are supposed to be linked.
Acupressure or Shiatsu- Similar in theory to acupuncture, these Asian techniques use concentrated finger pressure on specific body points to release the flow of energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”).
Typical Massage Therapy Session
True massage is a lot different than what is advertised in the Personals section of your local paper. Certified professionals work with healthcare providers and independently to provide arthritis pain relief. So exactly what can you expect?
At the first session, your masseur will ask you some background information about your health status as well as what massage techniques interest you. Then, you’ll disrobe as much as you feel comfortable and lie on a comfortable narrow mattress, covered with a sheet or blanket, at counter height. Your head fits face-down in a padded oval so the spine retains a natural curve.
Your therapist will reenter the room and dim the lights. Classical music or nature sounds often play softly in the background. One limb or body part at a time will be exposed and worked on, while the rest of you remains covered for modesty and warmth.
If you are interested in doing self-massage at home between treatments, ask your therapist for some tips. In general, don’t try to massage a very painful joint, or one that is swollen.
Massage Therapy Cost
If you have a referral from your physician, insurance will often cover the cost of at least some massage sessions. Expense per treatment usually runs from $30 to more than $100. Usually, your massage therapist will want to see you weekly for about four weeks, and monthly thereafter.
"Arthritis Massage Therapy: Alternative Pain Relief." Massage Therapy for Relief of Arthritis Pain. Disaboom Network, n.d. Web. 23 July 2012. <http://www.disaboom.com/rheumatoid-arthritis-ra/arthritis-massage-therapy-alternative-pain-relief>.