Massage therapies for arthritis
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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Massage is another potential modality to manage arthritis pain.
Massage therapy can help improve joint movement, relax tight muscles, and stimulate blood flow to underlying tissues. Massage induces relaxation so it can help break the cycle of pain that often goes along with arthritis.
There is still some doubt regarding its effectiveness. A journal article published in the 2002 edition of the Medical Clinics of North America reviewed the medical literature on the use of massage to manage arthritis pain. The authors concluded that short-term benefits for arthritis pain relief exist. However, studies of the long-term effects of the technique are still lacking. Nonetheless, many studies since then have confirmed massage therapy as an effective complementary treatment for arthritis.
Massage therapy can take a wide variety of forms. These are some of the most common ones:
•Swedish massage is a full-body treatment that combines stroking, kneading, and friction on the top layer of muscles with gentle movement of the joints.
•Deep tissue massage uses slow strokes and strong pressure on the deeper layers of muscle tissue. The goal is to release tension there.
•Myofascial release uses long, stretching strokes to release tension in the fascia, the connective tissue around the muscles.
•Trigger point therapy uses concentrated finger pressure on knots of tight muscle.
•Acupressure and shiatsu use finger pressure on specific points on the body, which are the same points that are stimulated in acupuncture. The pressure is supposed to unblock the flow of "qi"- life energy.
•Reflexology is a another rubbing technique that is supposed to help with organ dysfunction by rubbing areas remote from the affected area.
A typical massage therapy session lasts anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
If the massage causes pain, a patient should not hesitate to speak up. While massage therapy may provide short-term pain relief, massage therapy that is too rough may aggravate arthritis pain and symptoms.
In addition to giving a massage, a good therapist can show a patient techniques to do self-massage. Self-massage works best for localized trouble spots that are easily accessible. For hard-to-reach places, a patient may ask a partner to help or buy an electric massager. It’s important not to massage an inflamed joint. Also it’s important not to massage an area where there is an infection, since it could make these problems worse.
Always ask about credentials and education. The main credential to watch for is National Certification in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCTMB). Also, look for a graduate of a training program that has been accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA). In addition, ask about which techniques the therapist uses and whether he or she has experience working with other people who have arthritis. To find a qualified therapist, contact the AMTA (www.amtamassage.org , 888/843-2682).
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