Rheumatoid Arthritis can be debilitating, and rob you from a quality day-to-day life. Joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and fatigue easily make a person not want to get out of bed anymore. But, what if there was a way to recapture your active lifestyle, and reduce the flare-ups? Massage therapy is your hidden weapon against the severe symptoms of this autoimmune disease.
What Exactly is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is slightly different than general arthritis. RA is an autoimmune disease in where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. This results in inflammation, swelling and pain around the joints. If the inflammation isn’t treated, it can damage cartilage and eventually the loss of the cartilage as well. Joint deformity will then occur. Most commonly RA affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. What makes it unique and separates it from general arthritis is that it is usually symmetrical, meaning if one hand is affected, the other will be as well.
Can Massage Therapy Reduce RA Pain?
Although many believe that massage is a once in a while indulgence, massage therapy is so much more than that, and can actually help reduce the pain from RA. According to a study presented at the 2007 American Massage Therapy Association National Convention, “Therapeutic massage treatments, while able to achieve qualitative muscle release in an affected joint region, can also positively affect the physiological systems of a patient with RA and help to alleviate and prolong the deteriorating effects of the disease.” A 2013 study also showed that patients with RA in the upper limbs benefited from moderate pressure massage therapy (www.healthline.com).
Best Types of Massage for RA
Deep tissue massage uses intense pressure and tissue manipulation to relieve stiffness and soreness. This type of massage may not be for you as it is quite intense, however, if you and your massage therapist agree it is the best method, take care to communicate with your therapist where your pain is. Swedish massage uses long strokes and varying pressure to ease pain. Hot stone is wonderful to relax muscles; however, the heat may aggravate inflamed joints. Let your therapist know how you feel during the course of the massage. Myofascial release is a hands-on therapy that involves long pressure on select areas of the body. This type of massage is effective by stimulating blood flow and triggering the body’s natural anti-inflammatory actions.
Discuss with your massage therapist what level of pain you are experiencing to find the right amount of pressure your body will be able to handle. The last thing you (and we) want is for you to leave in more pain than when you came in! There is a great benefit to a good massage; finding the one that works best for you and making it a consistent part of your life is key.
Remember to discuss any kind of massage you plan to have with your rheumatologist to be certain it’s the right plan for you.