The Benefits of Massage for Arthritis
There is no cure for arthritis, but there are many ways you can learn to manage your symptoms, prevent further damage to the joints and live a full and exciting life. Your doctor will help you come up with a treatment plan when you are first diagnosed with arthritis, which may include strengthening exercises, pain medication and, in more extreme cases, surgery could also be considered. Outside of traditional healthcare, there are many other methods people may choose to use to help them manage their pain. One option you may like to try is massage therapy. There are lots of massage options available, and they may be able to help ease pain and stiffness, increase circulation, reduce inflammation and increase blood flow. Read on to learn more about massage therapy and how it can help with arthritis.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a common pain condition that affects millions of people in the UK. It causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the joints, making it difficult to move and perform everyday activities. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, which occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears away. This leads to bone rubbing against bone, causing damage and pain.
“The bones that make up our joints are covered in a flexible connective tissue called cartilage that keeps joint motion fluid and cushions our bones against impact,” says Dr. Grant Radermacher, owner of Ascent Chiropractic. “For the most part, cartilage doesn’t contain blood vessels or nerves, meaning it doesn’t have a nutrition delivery or waste removal service. Instead, it relies on the movement of fluid into and out of it to nourish it and keep it clean.”
Whilst arthritis cannot be cured, there are many ways people can learn to manage and decrease their pain. Massage is just one of many alternative therapies available, so it’s about trying a few different options and seeing what works best for you and your body.
What is massage therapy?
Massage therapy, which is a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) involves manipulating the soft tissues of the body with the hands or other tools. “Massage therapy, a well-known therapeutic practice, involves manipulating soft tissues, muscles, and joints through various techniques and pressures,” says Parnacott. “It can be a valuable addition to the management of osteoarthritis, offering both physical and emotional benefits.”
Massage therapy can help reduce inflammation, improve blood circulation, relax tense muscles and release endorphins, which are natural painkillers. Massage therapy can also help increase the range of motion and flexibility of the affected joints, making it easier to move and perform daily tasks, and it can help lower stress levels, improve mood and enhance sleep quality, which can have a positive impact on your overall health and well-being.
How massage therapy can benefit joint pain and osteoarthritis?
“Manually manipulating soft tissues and muscles improves circulation around joints and promotes the lymphatic drainage of waste products away from them, helping increase mobility, improve the exchange of fluid into and out of joints, and reduce inflammation,” says Radermacher. “Massage therapists can use any number of various techniques, including Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and myofascial release therapy, to address specific areas and body parts.”
Studies have found that massage can have a beneficial effect on pain. One 2018 study of people with osteoarthritis of the knee found that participants who had a weekly one-hour whole-body massage for eight weeks had significant improvements in terms of pain and mobility when compared to people who received standard care or light touch. Another study of people with arthritis in their hands found that a combination of self massage at home and a daily 15 minute massage from a therapist could reduce hand pain by up to 57%.
“One of the primary benefits of massage therapy for joint pain and osteoarthritis is its ability to reduce pain and inflammation,” says Parnacott. “Massage can help relax muscles surrounding the affected joints, easing tension and pressure on the joint itself. Additionally, it promotes blood flow and the release of endorphins, which act as natural pain relievers. Beyond pain relief, massage therapy enhances joint flexibility and range of motion. By targeting specific muscle groups and connective tissues, massage can improve joint function and decrease stiffness, enabling individuals with osteoarthritis to move more freely and comfortably.”
Massage can reduce the body's stress hormone cortisol, which can decrease inflammation and improve wellbeing. There are a variety of massage techniques and practices that you could try, and options ranging from spa treatment to buying your own electronic massager for your feet or back.
What to expect from an osteoarthritis massage?
“For those considering an osteoarthritis massage, it's essential to have realistic expectations,” says Parnacott. “Massage therapy may not provide a permanent cure for arthritis, but it can offer significant relief and support in managing the symptoms. Depending on the severity of the condition, multiple sessions may be recommended to achieve the desired results.”
If you are interested in trying massage therapy for your osteoarthritis, you should first consult your GP or physiotherapist to make sure it is safe and suitable for you. You should also inform your massage therapist about your condition, any medications you are taking and any areas of pain or sensitivity.
There are different types of massage therapy that may be beneficial for osteoarthritis, such as Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, trigger point massage and shiatsu massage. Your massage therapist should try and tailor the treatment to your needs and preferences, using various techniques, pressures and movements to manipulate your soft tissues. They should ask you how different pressures feel, and you can be open and honest with them about whether something is or isn’t working. Remember that it’s your body and your massage, so do speak up if something doesn’t feel right.
A typical massage session may last from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the area being treated and your goals. You may be asked to undress to your level of comfort and lie on a padded table or sit on a chair. Your massage therapist will use oil or lotion to reduce friction on your skin. You should feel relaxed and comfortable during the massage, but if you experience any pain or discomfort, you should let your massage therapist know.
You may feel some soreness or stiffness after the massage, but this should subside within a day or two. You should drink plenty of water after the massage to help flush out any toxins and stay hydrated. You should also avoid any strenuous activities for a few hours after the massage to allow your body to recover.
Can you get a massage on the NHS?
Massage therapy is not widely available on the NHS, as there is limited evidence to support its effectiveness and value for money. However, some NHS trusts may offer it as part of their physiotherapy services or pain management programmes. You can ask your GP or physiotherapist if they can refer you to a local service that provides massage therapy on the NHS.
“Regarding access to massage therapy on the NHS, it is important to note that availability may vary based on location and healthcare policies,” says Parnacott. “Some areas may offer access to massage therapy through NHS services or community-based initiatives, while others might not. It is advisable for individuals to inquire with their local healthcare providers or physicians to determine if this service is accessible in their region.”
Alternatively, you can find a private massage therapist who is qualified and registered with a professional body, such as the Federation of Holistic Therapists or the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. You may have to pay for the treatment yourself or use your private health insurance if you have one.
Massage therapy is not a substitute for conventional medical care, but it may be a helpful addition to your treatment plan for osteoarthritis. It may help you cope with pain, improve your mobility and enhance your well-being. If you decide to try it, make sure you choose a reputable therapist who has experience in treating people with osteoarthritis and follow their advice on how often and how long you should have massages.
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