Arthritis Study: The Message on Massage for Pain Relief
The Message on Massage for Pain Relief
The studies and their
findings that are presented in this article are for informational purposes only
and are not meant to take the place of the advice of your doctor. By providing
you with this information, Genzyme Corporation is not endorsing its content.
You should consult with your doctor before starting any new health regimen.
Massage therapy - the use of
massage techniques by a trained professional to enhance health and well-being -
is growing in popularity. A 2006 survey by the American Massage Therapy
Association found that more than one in six U.S. adults gets a professional
massage every year, and pain relief is often cited as the reason. Up until
lately, though, the possible benefits of massage hadn't been carefully studied
in people with osteoarthritis (OA). A recent randomized controlled trial
(Archives of Internal Medicine, December 11/25, 2006) - high standard in
medical research - changed that. It found that the addition of massage therapy
to usual care may help reduce pain and improve function in people with OA of
The study included 68 people
with knee OA, who were randomly divided into a massage therapy group and a
control group, which was included for comparison's sake and didn't receive the
massage treatment. Those in the massage group received twice-weekly massages
for four weeks, then once-weekly massages for another four weeks after that.
Swedish massage - the most common type - was used. This form of massage
involves long gliding strokes, kneading, and tapping on the upper layers of
muscle. Everyone in the study also continued their usual medical care.
The study found that massage
therapy led to improvements in pain, stiffness, flexibility, physical
functioning, and walking ability. Most benefits were still evident eight weeks
after the massage sessions ended. While more research is needed to confirm
these findings, the results are encouraging. They're also consistent with the
benefits seen in studies involving other kinds of arthritis.
Lowdown on rubdowns
Besides Swedish massage,
several other types of massage are available. All involve rubbing, kneading,
pressing, or otherwise manipulating the muscles and other soft tissues. For
example, deep tissue massage is another popular technique that uses slow
strokes and firm finger pressure to reach deeper layers of muscle. The exact
mechanisms by which massage might work are still being explored. However, some
ways that massage might help ease arthritis symptoms include bringing warmth to
painful areas, increasing circulation to affected joints, and relaxing nearby
In general, massage seems to
have few serious risks if appropriate precautions are taken. Be sure to let
your massage therapist know about your OA and any other medical conditions you
may have. Avoid getting a massage when you're having a flare or coming down
with an illness, and don't massage areas where the skin is broken or tender.
Also, keep in mind that massage therapy is meant to be used in addition to -
not in place of - conventional medical treatment.
The bottom line
Massage therapy has been
practiced for thousands of years. It was even used by Hippocrates, the ancient
Greek physician known as the father of medicine. Today, it's enjoying a
resurgence of popularity as a way to reduce stress and manage pain.
To find a qualified massage
therapist, look for one who is licensed by the state and/or has the credential
Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCTMB). Ask about
education as well, and look for a graduate of a program accredited by the
Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. The American Massage Therapy
Association offers an online directory (www.amtamassage.org) that is a good
starting place. Beyond that, your doctor or local hospital may be able to refer
you to a massage therapist who has experience with arthritis.
- American Massage Therapy Association. Massage therapy: not
just a trend. Available at:
http://www.amtamassage.org/news/2006consumer_survey.html. Accessed July 18,
- American Massage Therapy Association. Massage may help ease
your pain. Available at: http://www.amtamassage.org/news/easepain.html. Accessed
July 18, 2007.
- "Massage Therapy for Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A
Randomized Controlled Trial." A.I. Perlman et al. Archives of Internal
Medicine. December 11/25, 2006, vol. 166, no. 22, pp. 2533-2538.
- American Massage Therapy Association. Glossary of terms.
Available at: http://www.amtamassage.org/about/terms.html. Accessed July 18,
- American Massage Therapy Association. Some things you should
know about massage. Available at: http://www.amtamassage.org/news/youknow.html.
Accessed July 18, 2007.
- Arthritis Foundation. Consider massage. Available at:
http://www.arthritis.org/consider-massage.php. Accessed July 18, 2007.
- National Center for Complementary
and Alternative Medicine. Massage therapy as CAM.
Available at:http://nccam.nih.gov/health/massage. Accessed July 18, 2007.
- Alternative Treatments for Arthritis: An A to Z Guide. D.
Foltz-Gray. Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation, 2005.
- American Massage Therapy Association. How to find a
qualified massage therapist. Available at:
http://www.amtamassage.org/findamassage/find.html. Accessed July 18, 2007.