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Massage and Osteoarthritis: Teaching the body how and where to remodel

Massage and Osteoarthritis: Teaching the body how and where to remodel

Susan, Certified Massage Therapist

Prehistoric people had less osteoarthritis. Even when researchers took into account the fact that we live longer than our ancestors and have a higher Body Mass Index, we still have a more than doubled incidence of knee osteoarthritis.


The biggest factor that may be leading to this increase in knee osteoarthritis is our sedentary lifestyle.  And, that may be counter intuitive. The added wear and tear of a nomadic existence must mean that knees would wear out faster, right?


Part of understanding this research has to do with how our bodies model and remodel our bones and connective tissues throughout our lives. Electrical engineers may recognize the term Piezoelectric Effect. This is where mechanical stress, like walking while overcoming gravity, generates an electrical charge.


It was discovered in the 70s and 80s that the charge generated when we move and overcome gravity is how our bodies know what bones, joints, connective tissues, and muscle we are actively using and what cells the body can safely recycle. It’s use it or lose it.


There are four ways massage can help.

  1. A therapist can help you generate charge by assisted movement of joints.  Even bedridden clients benefit from this type of massage. It can be done in workout clothing, and it’s more energizing than relaxing.

  2. A therapist can provide blood flow and relief to muscles that have tightened to keep a damaged joint from moving in painful ways. This may restore range of motion and function, allowing for a client to take better care of themselves in day to day life.

  3. A therapist can help you understand which ranges of motion are the most aggravating so that you can use the joint in the less painful ranges of motion.  This body detective work integrates joint mobilization and massage with day-to-day life, resulting in an overall improvement to quality of life and function.

  4. When swelling around a joint begins to press against nerve cells, clients may feel some very strange and painful sensations. A massage therapist can use very gentle lymph massage to move the inflammatory fluid, taking pressure off healthy nerve cells.


Communicate with your therapist about your goals and areas of concern. Come to your session in long gym or yoga pants, and set your expectations for something different than a spa massage. We hope you’ll be moving with more wisdom and function soon!

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