Arthritis is a painful condition causing inflammation in one or more of your joints. The term arthritis actually refers to over 100 unique conditions which cause varying degrees of pain, stiffness, and damage to the many joints of the body.
Regular massage therapy, ranging from treatment by a licensed massage therapist to self-massage at home, can lead to a significant reduction in pain for people with arthritis. Recent research has shown an improvement in range of motion, hand grip strength, and overall joint function along with a reduction of pain and stiffness.
Painful arthritis in the hands or wrist can limit the ability to work, write, or do basic everyday things like open a jar or fasten your seatbelt. Pre-and post-therapy tests in research studies have shown an increase in grip strength and reduction of pain for individuals who were taught by a massage therapist how to massage their sore joints daily at home.
The benefits of massage therapy for arthritis are just being fully realized through various research studies. Most people who receive massage therapy for arthritis pain report that the benefits lasted at least six months. Different types of massage such as Swedish and deep tissue massage worked about the same with the same results. The most important factor is the pressure of the massage, with moderate pressure being the most beneficial. A light pressure massage may feel good but will not be triggering the pressure receptors necessary to promote relaxation.
Moderate pressure massage reduces pain and anxiety by lowering the production of stress hormones while boosting the production of serotonin, improving mood and reducing blood pressure and anxiety. Neurotransmitters related to pain are subdued and improved sleep along with a reduction in pain are improved.
The frequency of massage for maximum benefits is still being studied, but even research study participants who had only one massage therapy session still demonstrated an improvement in the levels of key hormones and white blood cells. These participants also showed a reduction in inflammatory cytokines which can reduce the pain related to arthritis. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, show a greater decrease with repeated massage therapy sessions but are still reduced by a single session.
If you are interested in massage for your arthritis, consult first with your primary care doctor or rheumatologist to be sure that massage therapy is a safe option for you. Some massage techniques involve pressure on sensitive or damaged joints and may be difficult or not recommended for someone with a severe form of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis. Individuals with osteoporosis, high blood pressure, varicose veins, or damaged joints from massage may also need to double check with their physician.
Let your massage therapist know if you are in pain or uncomfortable during your treatment. Massage therapists want and welcome your feedback! A massage therapist can usually tell if you have an area of inflammation but it is a good idea to discuss any concerns you may have with them before starting treatment. Also talk with your therapist about your goals for massage, whether it be an improved range of motion in a limb or reducing anxiety. A massage therapist is there for help and wants to make you feel better!