Alleviating Arthritis Pain with Massage Therapy

massage for arthritis
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For help in relieving joint pain and stiffness, many arthritis patients undergo massage therapy. Research suggests that massage may benefit people with osteoarthritis, as well as those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Why Is Massage Sometimes Used for Arthritis Relief?

There are many theories on how or why massage may be beneficial for people with arthritis. For instance, it's thought that massage may help change the way your body deals with pain.

Indeed, some studies show that massage can help reduce your levels of substance P (a naturally occurring chemical responsible for transmitting pain signals) and, in turn, aid in pain reduction.

In addition, massage appears to curb the body's production of cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress). Since stress is known to aggravate arthritis pain, keeping stress in check is essential for arthritis management.

What's more, massage may help improve sleep. A widespread problem among arthritis patients, sleep disruption is linked to increases in pain sensitivity.

The Science Behind Massage and Arthritis

A number of small studies indicate that massage may help ease the pain of osteoarthritis. These studies include a clinical trial published in Archives of Internal Medicine in 2006, for which 68 adults with osteoarthritis of the knee were assigned to eight weeks of treatment with Swedish massage or to a control group.

By the study's end, members of the massage group had experienced greater improvements in pain, stiffness, and physical function.

There's also some evidence that using massage therapy in combination with other therapeutic approaches may benefit people with osteoarthritis. For example, a small study published in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation in 2014 found that combining massage with exercise-based therapy may improve symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.

For the study, 18 women with knee osteoarthritis were split into two groups: the first group received massage therapy and followed an exercise program, while the second group followed the exercise program but did not receive massage. After six weeks of treatment, members of the first group showed a greater improvement in osteoarthritis symptoms.

So far, few studies have tested massage's effects in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Still, a small study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2013 found that moderate-pressure massage may help lessen rheumatoid arthritis pain.

In an experiment involving 42 people with rheumatoid arthritis in their upper limbs, the study's authors found that those who received moderate-pressure massage on the affected arms and shoulders once a week for four weeks experienced a greater decrease in pain and greater improvements in grip strength and range of motion (compared to those treated with light-pressure massage for the same time period).


While massage therapy is generally considered safe when administered correctly by a trained, licensed practitioner, there's some concern that certain types of massage may be inappropriate for people with arthritis-related joint damage.

If you're interested in using massage to manage your arthritis pain, talk to your doctor for help in finding the massage type that's right for you. You can learn more about the most common types of massage therapy here.

Alternatives to Massage for Arthritis Relief

Massage is just one of several alternative therapies that may be helpful to people with arthritis. For instance, there's some evidence that receiving acupuncture and practicing guided imagery may help control arthritis pain.

Additionally, use of natural remedies like turmeric, white willow, omega-3 fatty acids, avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, glucosamine, and/or chondroitin sulfate may ease arthritis pain to some degree.

Taking up mind-body techniques like yoga and tai chi may help lessen arthritis pain as well.

Beyond Arthritis: More Benefits of Massage

Not only potentially useful in the treatment of arthritis, massage may offer relief of pain-causing conditions like low back pain, fibromyalgia, and temporomandibular joint disorder.


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Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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