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
- reducing pain
- increasing blood flow to the joints
- increasing range of motion
- improving quality of life
- boosting mood
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.
Massage involves the manipulation of skin, muscles, and connective tissues using the hands or mechanical devices. A person can massage themselves or ask someone else to massage them.
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
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 person can buy myofascial release tools for at-home use.
According to the AF, rolfing is part of a healing philosophy called structural integration. As with myofascial release, a therapist positions the body in certain ways to massage fascia tissues. The technique aims to restore range of motion, promote alignment and body function, and restore anatomical structures. This technique may reduce pain.
Shiatsu, which originated in Japan, is a whole body therapy. The therapist uses their hands to apply rhythmic pressure to specific body points. The aim is to restore the flow of healthy energy, known as qi. A person remains fully clothed, and there is no use of oils. However, there is a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of Shiatsu as a therapy for arthritis.
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.
People can massage themselves using their hands, elbows, or knuckles. Alternatively, they can purchase massage devices. The AF recommends warming the muscles with long, firm strokes before focusing smaller movements on specific sore points.
A person can use oils or lotion to allow the hands to glide across the skin. Applying heat before self-massaging can help loosen the muscles and increase the benefits of the practice.
People can expect varied experiences from a massage treatment, depending on the type of massage and their pain threshold.
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.
Regular massage can improve a person’s range of motion, reduce stiffness and pain, and ease the discomfort of arthritis. However, these benefits may only be
A person can use massage as part of a wider treatment strategy. Other treatments may include:
- hot and cold therapy
- physical exercise
- achieving and maintaining a moderate body mass index (BMI)
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.
Massage is one type of treatment for arthritis, but its effects are often short-lived. To treat arthritis, a person should follow the advice of a healthcare professional.