For individuals managing osteoarthritis, could massage therapy provide added treatment benefits?
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Osteoarthritis Massage Therapy
Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage between the joints wears away, causing stiffness and pain. Massage therapy is a treatment used to relieve various types of pain symptoms.
- There are many types of massage therapy, that healthcare providers utilize to manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues to relieve symptoms, relax muscles, increase circulation, reduce inflammation, release trigger points, and restore mobility, flexibility, and function. (Ergonomic Trends. 2023)
- Professional therapists can help relieve osteoarthritis joint pain by relaxing the surrounding muscles and other soft tissues to release stiffness. (Adam Perlman, et al., 2019)
Massage Objectives and Types
Massage therapists use their hands and fingers, forearms, elbows, and/or instruments to manipulate the body’s soft tissues. Soft tissues support and surround body structures and include muscle, fat, tendons, and ligaments.
- The goal of osteoarthritis massage therapy is to relax muscles and soft tissues, increase blood and oxygen circulation, warm the affected area/s, relieve pain, and restore mobility and function.
- Depending on the location of the muscles being massaged, individuals may be seated or lie down on a specialized table.
- The amount of pressure and direction of movement depend on the body area.
- Therapeutic oils and/or massage creams may be used to increase the therapy.
- The therapist uses long strokes, kneading, and friction on the muscles.
- Joints are moved to increase flexibility.
- The therapist uses deep finger or instrument pressure, focusing on muscles that are tight or knotted.
- Trigger points represent a source of radiating pain symptoms.
- The therapist focuses pressure on these myofascial tissue points using various strokes to release them.
- The therapist applies rhythmic pressure with their thumbs, fingers, and palms to redirect and increase energy or chi/qi.
A massage session lasts around 30–60 minutes depending on the severity of the condition and the number of sessions the patient has undergone. Chronic pain patients usually go through a series of specialized sessions that focus on specific areas and gradually build.
Certain precautions must be taken before getting osteoarthritis massage therapy. Although there are a few serious risks, certain individuals are not suitable candidates and should not receive massage therapy. The conditions include: (Medical Massage Therapy Resource & Reference. 2023)
- Damaged nerves.
- Damaged blood vessels.
- Infection and inflammation in the area to be massaged.
- Open wounds.
- Taking a blood thinner.
- Deep vein thrombosis – blood clots.
- Bleeding disorders.
- Osteoporosis – weak and brittle bones.
- Recent fractures – broken bones.
- Individuals who have recently undergone surgery.
- Individuals with a skin condition that is contagious, like warts or herpes, or noncontagious, like psoriasis, could be aggravated by touch or pressure.
- Individuals who have cancer, fragile skin, heart problems, or dermatomyositis are recommended to discuss osteoarthritis massage therapy with their healthcare provider.
Research on the effects of massage therapy on various health conditions is ongoing. Massage therapy promotes relaxation while reducing stress, which can help with chronic joint issues like osteoarthritis.
Ergonomic Trends. 20 most common types of massages and their benefits explained.
Perlman, A., Fogerite, S. G., Glass, O., Bechard, E., Ali, A., Njike, V. Y., Pieper, C., Dmitrieva, N. O., Luciano, A., Rosenberger, L., Keever, T., Milak, C., Finkelstein, E. A., Mahon, G., Campanile, G., Cotter, A., & Katz, D. L. (2019). Efficacy and Safety of Massage for Osteoarthritis of the Knee: a Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of general internal medicine, 34(3), 379–386. doi.org/10.1007/s11606-018-4763-5
Medical Massage Therapy Resource & Reference. When not to get a massage: 26 reasons you cannot get a massage.
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The information herein on "Breaking Down Osteoarthritis and Massage Treatment Options" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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