Part 2: Massage Effectiveness for Arthritis and Related conditions

Original Content By Susan Bernstein and Mary Anne Dunkin

Recap from Part 1: There are many variables involved in how massage may work to ease pain, stiffness and anxiety, says Rosemary Chunco, a licensed massage therapist in Plano, Texas, who treats many patients with arthritis and related diseases. “The actual mechanism that comes into play is still under investigation. For example, a more restful sleep that results from a massage may help with arthritis pain.”

What matters most is the level of pressure used in the massage, says Tiffany Field, PhD, a research psychologist at the University of Miami Medical School. Field published a 2010 study in the International Journal of Neuroscience that showed stimulating pressure receptors – or nerves under the skin that convey pain-reducing signals to the brain – with moderate pressure leads to reduced symptoms.

“The critical thing is using moderate pressure,” says Field. “Light pressure, just touching the surface of the skin or brushing it superficially, is not getting at those pressure receptors. Light pressure can be stimulating, not relaxing.”

Considerations Before You Try Massage
If you’re interested in trying one of the many types of massage as a way to ease your arthritis symptoms, it’s important to consult your rheumatologist or primary-care physician first to ensure that massage is safe for you. Some techniques may involve strong pressure to sensitive tissues and joints or moving limbs into various positions that may be difficult for someone with damaged joints from a disease like rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis.

Use caution when considering massage if you have:

Damaged or eroded joints from arthritis
Flare of inflammation, fever or a skin rash
Severe osteoporosis (brittle bones)
High blood pressure
Varicose veins

“It’s also very important to tell the therapist if you are experiencing pain or if you are uncomfortable with the work that she is doing. A good therapist will want feedback on what you are feeling during the session,” says Chunco.

Massage should make your arthritis pain and stiffness feel better, not worse, says Veena Ranganath, MD, a rheumatologist at the University of California, Los Angeles Department of Medicine. “I do tell my patients that if it hurts, don’t do it,” says Dr. Ranganath.

Massage is not medicine. It’s a complement to your doctor-prescribed arthritis treatment. Communication with your doctor and massage therapist beforehand can ensure that massage is right for you and help you achieve beneficial results.

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If you missed Part 1, click HERE

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