Massage Therapy as a Lupus Treatment Tool

Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing receives a massage from his personal trainer Roger Cleary following qualifying for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 5, 2008 in Sakhir, Bahrain. Getty Images

Where one method of treating systemic lupus erythematosus will work for one individual, it may have little affect on another. Thus it is common for someone suffering from lupus to explore various ways to treat the symptoms of the disease, notably pain caused by inflammation, a hallmark of the disease.

Some methods, like massage therapy, are considered complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), defined as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered a part of conventional medicine.

These approaches come as novel to some and completely familiar to others. Massage therapy, for example, is a time-honored method of pain and stress relief.

It is important to note, however, that the Lupus Foundation of America does not recommend medications, products or methods not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the American College of Rheumatology, further stating on its web site, “remedies that have not undergone the scrutiny of scientific investigation, lack the crucial information and data necessary to enable physicians to make sound recommendations regarding substances.”

Before exploring any new treatment option, then, it is best to talk with your healthcare provider.

Massage Therapy

The use of massage therapy as pain management tool continues to gain popularity in the United States. One survey found that 5 percent of 31,000 participants had used massage therapy in the previous year and nearly 10 percent had engaged in therapy at least once in their life.

And, increasingly, healthcare providers are discussing massage therapy with their patients as a way to complement their conventional medical treatment (another survey found that 63 percent of massage therapists received referrals from healthcare professionals).

There are dozens of massage therapy methods, but all follow the same basic principles and practices: pressing, rubbing, and manipulating the body’s muscles and soft tissues, in an effort to relax the patient and decrease his or her physical pain.

This is achieved by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the massaged areas, warming and relaxing them.

Massage therapy is performed by a licensed therapist who may use a number of different techniques. Long strokes and friction on the muscles is the hallmark of a therapist who prefers Swedish massage. Patterns and deep pressure applied by individual fingers to the knotted muscles and muscle layers is part of a therapist’s deep tissue arsenal. And a therapist who applies varying, rhythmic pressure from the fingers to zones on the body corresponding with the body’s vital flow of energy is engaging in shiatsu massage.


The Role of the Massage Therapist

Professionals who provide massages to patients are called massage therapists. They work in a variety of settings, from office locations to house calls and workplace visits.

If you are considering massage therapy, chose a licensed and trained practitioner. Your healthcare provider should be able to refer one to you. And in some cases, conventional medical professionals might also be licensed to perform massage therapy.

Most therapists attend a school or training program and, as stated, a fair number of massage therapists also practice medicine in another capacity, such as a nurse. Study typically covers subjects such as anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, therapeutic evaluation, massage techniques, first aid, legal issues, and hands-on practice.


Treatment, Benefits and Risk

A standard massage therapy session typically lasts a half hour to an hour, but can be shorter or longer. The atmosphere should be relaxed and the patient comfortable.

The therapist may use oil or powder to reduce friction on the skin and employ ice, heat and fragrances as part of the therapy. You should feel free to discuss the techniques he or she will use prior to the therapy session.

And while there are few risks and side effects associated with massage therapy – temporary discomfort, bruising, swelling or an allergic reaction to massage oils are the most common – there are some people who should not receive massage therapy, emphasizing the need to talk to your healthcare professional prior to starting any regime. Those that should not receive massage therapy – or should consult their doctor before getting massage therapy – include:



Massage Therapy As CAM. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health. March 2008.

Massage Therapy Industry Fact Sheet American Massage Therapy Association. March 2008.

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