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Managing Osteoarthritis with massage
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is typically non-inflammatory and usually affects weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips, spine and hands. It breaks down the articular (hyaline) cartilage at the ends of bones. Healthy cartilage, which are the joints “shock absorbers”, allows our bones to smoothly glide against each other in pain-free motion. When this cartilage wears away, bone surfaces grind against each other with movement, thereby causing intense pain, swelling and reduced motion in joints. Other signs and symptoms may include the development of bone spurs, point tenderness and stiffness of affected joints. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, meaning it gradually worsens over time. Risk factors to consider with the progression of this condition include prior joint injury, body weight, occupational and recreational demands, genetics, bone malformations and concurrent diseases.

Recent research suggests that massage can positively affect the body’s production of white blood cells and certain hormones linked to blood pressure, anxiety, heart rate and other key vital signs. It is something many people use to soothe sore joints and muscles, to ease anxiety or to help them sleep better.

Regular massage of muscles and the surrounding joints, whether by a licensed therapist or by self-massage at home, can lead to a significant reduction in pain for people with arthritis, and can led to improvements in pain, stiffness, range of motion, hand grip strength and overall function of the joints.  

Be sure to discuss with your massage therapist beforehand about your arthritis, and what parts of your body are most affected by the disease. Trained massage therapists know what to look out for and can discuss any health concerns with you. It’s very important to tell the therapist if you are experiencing pain or if you are uncomfortable with the work that they are doing. A good therapist will want feedback on what you are feeling during the session.

It’s advisable t to consult your rheumatologist or primary-care physician first if you have even the slightest worry about using massage for your condition. Some techniques may involve strong pressure to sensitive tissues and joints, or moving limbs into various positions that may be difficult for someone with damaged joints from a disease like rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis.

Most importantly, massage should make your arthritis pain and stiffness feel better, not worse, if it hurts, don’t do it. Massage is not medicine. It’s a complement to your doctor-prescribed arthritis treatment. You should enjoy experiencing a massage, and it should not increase your pain or anxiety. Communication with your doctor and massage therapist beforehand can ensure that massage is right for you and help you achieve beneficial results.

5 Ways Massage Lessens Osteoarthritis Pain And Stiffness And Slows Its Progression

  1. Better posture. Massage will help to realign your posture, which reduces unequal weight distribution throughout the body.
  2. Joint flexibility. Massage restores proper range of movement by aiding in the removal of collagenous tissue bound within joint structures. This scar tissue settles in areas of injury to repair these sites which then contributes to the lack of mobility and stiffness already felt by people with osteoarthritis.
  3. Pain management. Massage therapy reduces pain by directly impacting nerves around the joints.
  4. Decreased swelling. Massage can push extracellular fluid proximally up a limb, which reduces swelling of an affected structure which expedites the body’s healing processes.
  5. Movement re-education. As proper joint mobility returns, the nervous system will begin re-educating itself via proprioceptive activity and efficient movement can be restored.

Your individual goals for massage may vary. You may be interested in relieving anxiety and stress caused by dealing with arthritis, or you may be seeking relief for pain and stiffness in a specific area of your body. Talk openly with your massage therapist about your goals for the session so they can adjust their techniques accordingly. There is no set way to perform a massage; it should be flexible to your needs and enjoyable.





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