How Massage Therapy Helps Relieve Osteoarthritis Pain

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Massage therapy may bring you short-term relief from osteoarthritis knee pain.

Massage therapy may bring you short-term relief from osteoarthritis knee pain.

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As one of the most popular complementary health approaches in the United States, massage is used by more than 15 million adults in the U.S., according to the

National Institutes of Health

. It’s also a treatment that might benefit people with



“When done by a trained massage therapist on carefully selected patients, massage therapy is a very valuable addition to traditional

osteoarthritis treatments

,” says

Valerie Voner

, a licensed massage therapist, former coordinator of the massage therapy program at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, and founder of the New England Institute of Reflexology and Universal Studies.

Osteoarthritis — which affects an estimated 31 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation — occurs when wear and tear breaks down the cartilage cushions between the joints, causing pain and stiffness.

Chronic osteoarthritis responds well to massage, Voner says. Pain is relieved as the muscles surrounding the joints relax, releasing stiffness and allowing for better range of motion and mobility. Increased relaxation, decreased stress, and a sense of well-being are additional benefits of massage therapy, she explains. Just be sure to talk to your doctor or physical therapist before giving it a try.

The Science Behind Massage Therapy and Osteoarthritis

“It’s hard to find good research on massage therapy for osteoarthritis because there have been few controlled studies,” Voner says. “It’s hard to measure relaxation and well-being objectively.”

Still, some small studies have shown that massage therapy can be effective for various arthritis-related pains:

  • Low back pain

    People who participated in 10 massage therapy sessions saw improvements in their chronic low-back pain, according to a study published in the July 2017 issue of the journal

    Pain Medicine


  • Neck pain

    A study published in 2014 in

    Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice

    found that massage therapy can help relieve pain and increase range of motion in people with neck arthritis.

  • Knee pain

    A study published in 2006 in the

    Archives of Internal Medicine

    found that people who received massage therapy for knee osteoarthritis reported seeing improvements in their pain and stiffness. A follow-up study, published in 2012 in

    PLoS One

    , found that the optimal treatment for relief is a weekly 60-minute session of Swedish massage. A study in the August 2015

    Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine

    also found that Chinese massage therapy can bring short-term relief from osteoarthritis knee pain.

Although there’s no proof that shows how massage therapy works, the

Arthritis Foundation

notes that it may lower the production of the stress hormone cortisol and increase the levels of mood-boosting hormones like



Therapeutic Approaches for Osteoarthritis Treatment

According to the

Arthritis Foundation

, massage offers a range of potential benefits to people with arthritis. Types of massage include:

  • Trigger point

    This type of massage relieves pain in specific areas of the body by applying pressure or vibration at trigger points, the

    Arthritis Foundation


  • Reiki

    Based on the Eastern belief that energy can be used to heal, Reiki is a form of massage in which the practitioner guides energy through your body to stimulate healing. The massage therapist’s hands hover over or very lightly touch your body. Though the therapy appears to be safe, research hasn’t yet shown how effective the treatment is, according to the

    National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health


  • Shiatsu

    This Japanese massage technique uses continuous, rhythmic motions of the fingers and palms to apply pressure to particular points of the body. (The philosophy behind shiatsu is that it restores the flow of healthy energy, or qi.) This type of massage is a good option for someone who does not want to disrobe for a massage, as it’s done fully clothed.

  • Swedish

    A massage therapist uses long strokes, circular movements of applied pressure, and kneading to help relax muscles, reduce soreness, and increase oxygen flow.

  • Reflexology

    The theory behind reflexology is that applying pressure to specific spots on the hands and feet brings relief to other parts of the body. This may be beneficial for people who are too tender for direct touch on other parts of the body.

How to Personalize Your Massage Plan

Dina Gilmore

, a licensed massage therapist in Denver, has dealt with bone and joint pain for most of her life. When she was younger, she says, doctors dismissed her concerns as growing pains and attributed them to the fact that she was an athlete. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2012 when X-rays after an injury showed she had degenerative bone disease.

Gilmore considers massage to be an important part of her osteoarthritis management plan. “It helps to control the symptoms,” she says. “Massage helps to

decrease the pain

after the work that I do all day.” Gilmore became a massage therapist because she wanted to help ease the pain for others. “I learned how good it feels to make someone feel better,” she says.

Gilmore recommends trying different types of massage until you find one that provides relief. No two bodies are the same, she says, so it may take some trial and error. She also says it’s important to tell your massage therapists that you have arthritis and to let them know when something feels good and when it doesn’t.

If you’re nervous about going for a massage, call ahead and ask the therapist to walk you through the process and answer any questions you may have. If you don’t want to lie on a table, ask for a chair massage. If you’re uncomfortable with undressing for a massage, you can request to remain fully or partially clothed. “It’s your session,” Gilmore says. “It should be customized to meet your needs.”

Tips for Finding Affordable Massages

Adding a weekly massage to the budget may not seem possible when you have other priorities. Try these ideas for lessening the cost burden:

  • Ask for a package deal. Many massage therapists offer discounts when they know they will be seeing a client on a regular basis, Gilmore says.
  • Request a massage gift card when a loved one asks for gift ideas you’d enjoy.
  • Check out deals on social media sites like




    . Many massage therapists offer significant discounts to build their client base.
  • Purchase a membership at a franchise massage location. Usually you’ll pay for a set number of massages a month and get a discount on additional visits.

Other points to keep in mind:

  • Not all massage therapists are trained in

    pain management

  • Massage therapy is not a substitute for medical treatment. Always tell your doctor if you are using any complementary or alternative osteoarthritis treatment.
  • Not everyone is a good candidate for every type of massage. For instance, deep tissue massage isn’t appropriate for someone who has bleeding problems or is on blood thinners. Before your get any type of massage, talk to your doctor about whether the therapy is safe for you.

This is is a syndicated post. Read the original at

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