The restless pain of hip and knee arthritis is difficult to manage. Is massage therapy right for you? In this article, we will discuss the general benefits of massage and cover some basic FAQs about arthritis pain and massage therapy.
How can massage therapy help with your arthritis pain?
Massage is often viewed as an indulgent spa experience, and while that’s true for many, it is also excellent mental and physical therapy for those with arthritis. Massage is not medicine. But, massage relaxes, resets, and invigorates muscles which can reduce pain and stiffness, ease anxiety, improve the range of motion in joints, and promote more restful sleep.
While having just one massage session can ease immediate pain, patients investing in ongoing massage therapy tailored to their specific needs see a vast improvement in pain management and quality of life. In 2006, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey compared two groups of around 70 adults with knee osteoarthritis. One group received two Swedish massages a week for eight weeks. The second group received no massages at all. The first group saw overwhelming improvement in reduced knee pain, stiffness, range of motion and walking.
One might think that a massage designed for those with hip and knee arthritis would focus on the affected areas. But for best results therapists recommend full-body, moderate pressure massages. Lower back and neck pain is common in hip and knee arthritis patients, as is reliance on the non or less affected leg. A full-body massage will alleviate tension and pressure placed on all areas of your body.
Stress and depression are serious side-effects of hip and knee arthritis. Massage therapy can actively help you combat this. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine studied the effects of massage on the body’s biochemistry. They measured the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, both before and after massage in around 500 people of varying ages. Across the board, cortisol levels lowered by up to 53%. They also saw an increase in the body’s “happy hormones”, serotonin and dopamine.
Some Massage and Arthritis FAQs
What are the best types of massage for arthritis?
Before you begin any type of massage therapy it’s important to speak with your primary and/or specialist physician. And then it’s important to have a similar conversation with your massage therapist. Discuss your pain and comfort levels (both in terms of physical limitations and any personal boundaries), make sure they are clear on your unique situation, and discuss immediate and long-term goals. Your physician and therapist will help you decide on the best massage option for you.
How often should I have a massage?
This varies from patient to patient, but therapists recommend a minimum of bi-monthy or weekly sessions to see a long-lasting effect. Self-massage is also recommended (pressure techniques you can perform yourself at home) and can certainly supplement professional sessions.
Will it hurt?
A moderate massage should not be painful, and it’s vital you communicate with your therapist in the moment if you feel any pain. More extreme pressure is not recommended for arthritis patients. Depending on your situation, the sensation of your muscles relaxing after being held tight or in knots for an extended time may feel uncomfortable, but it should pass quickly. You should leave a massage feeling better than you did when you arrived!
How exposed will I be?
This varies between massage techniques. Skin to skin contact is important for many techniques but that does not mean you need to be naked. A sheet is often used and tucked around your body so only the part of you being worked on is exposed. You can wear underwear, a swimsuit, even loose shorts and a t-shirt if you need to. Speak with your therapist about what you’re comfortable with beforehand.
Will oils/lotions/scents be used?
For most massage techniques, yes. If you have sensitive skin, any allergies, or even basic scent preferences, speak up and let your therapist know. If you want to bring your own lotion/oil, call ahead to make sure it is allowed.