Massage for Arthritis
Arthritis typically involves pain, swelling, and inflammation that may limit a person’s movement and everyday activity. By improving blood flow, massage can ease this joint inflammation and pain. A person can use massage as part of a wider treatment program.
Arthritis treatment may include medication, steroid injections, assistive devices, physical therapy exercises, lifestyle adjustments, and surgery. Alongside these, massage may improve circulation and help reduce symptoms.
This article explains how massage may help people with arthritis and what a person can expect from a massage treatment. It also outlines some types of massage.
According to a 2016 studyTrusted Source, massage therapy for arthritis can help by:
increasing blood flow to the joints
increasing range of motion
improving quality of life
A small 2017 study found that people with knee osteoarthritis (OA) receiving regular Swedish massage experienced an improved range of motion and reduced knee pain.
This positively affected their quality of life and increased their ability to perform daily activities. Examples included walking longer distances and taking part in more outdoor activities. Other benefits were the ability to engage in social activities and a reduced need for pain relief.
Types of massage for arthritis
Massage involves the manipulation of skin, muscles, and connective tissues using the hands or mechanical devices.
Massage can vary in intensity. Depending on the type of massage and a person’s needs, it can be firm, gentle, calming, or invigorating. The Arthritis Foundation (AF) recommends moderate pressure to stimulate receptors under the skin that reduce pain and stress signals to the brain. All types of full body massage have the potential to relieve the pain and tension of arthritis.
Long, fluid stroking of the skin, muscles, and tissues helps reduce muscle stiffness and joint soreness. A therapist may use oil or lotion to stimulate the senses and help reduce anxiety. Swedish massage can boost circulation, which may help improve joint range of motion.
Deep tissue massage
This type of massage manipulates the surface and lower layers of tissues and muscles and requires focused, strong pressure. Deep tissue massage may result in soreness, so it might not be suitable for some people with active arthritis.
Hot stone massage & Himalayan stone massage
Heat is associated with soothing painful muscles, and hot stone therapy can alleviate muscle tension and promote relaxation. A therapist must ensure that the stones are not too hot, as excessively high temperatures may result in a burn or scald scars. Heat increases blood flow and may enable an increased range of motion in the joints.
Myofascial release manipulates the connective tissues or fascia around body structures, including blood vessels, nerves, and muscles. A therapist stretches and releases the connective tissues by rolling the skin back and forward over the painful areas. This type of massage does not usually involve oils or lotion.
A 2020 studyTrusted Source found that myofascial release reduced pain and increased motion for people living with knee OA.
A person can buy myofascial release tools for at-home use.
Trigger point massage
A trigger point is the term for where a person’s pain originates. This type of massage relieves pain by applying pressure or vibration to myofascial trigger points where muscle knots may form. Pinpointed pressure can relax knots and relieve pain.
How to maximize the benefits of massage People can expect varied experiences from a massage treatment, depending on the type of massage and their pain threshold. ResearchTrusted Source suggests that moderate pressure may offer better symptom relief, whereas firm massage may improve muscle strength and range of motion. A person may get the most benefit from their massage by:
making the therapist aware of any joint damage, current injuries, rashes, cuts, or bruises so that they take special care while massaging the affected area
letting the therapist know if the massage hurts, although mild discomfort is normal while the therapist is focusing on sore areas
drinking plenty of water after a massage to help reduce inflammation and soothe aches
taking a warm bath with Epsom salts to help loosen the muscles and maximize the benefits of the massage
After the massage, a person may feel achy and temporarily sore. There may be some temporary inflammation, which is normal. According to the Global Healthy Living Foundation, a person can get the best from massage therapy by:
finding a therapist who specializes in treating arthritis
making and keeping regular appointments
giving the muscles time to recover between appointments
trying different types of massage to find the one that is most beneficial for them
exercising between appointments to maintain looser muscles and joints
A person should not feel embarrassed to reveal parts of their body they may not like. Massage therapists see all shapes, sizes, abnormalities, and skin issues, and they intend to help a person and make them feel comfortable. However, a person can ask the therapist to exclude certain body parts from the massage or keep them covered with a sheet.
Summary Massage can help ease arthritis symptoms by improving blood flow and loosening the muscles around joints. People may experience reduced pain, improved mood, and an increased range of motion. There are many types of massage, and a person should try several to find one that eases their symptoms.
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