Osteoarthritis and massage
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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In addition to medication, surgery, and physical therapy, massage may be useful in the management of osteoarthritis.
Although massage has not been studied extensively, it appears many people report significant benefits in terms of pain and relaxation. Many doctors recommend it for their patients. Although there are many forms of massage, the type most people are familiar with is Swedish massage, a full-body treatment that involves stroking or kneading the top layers of muscles with oils or lotions.
Massage therapy can soothe pain, relax stiff muscles, and reduce the spasms that accompany arthritis. Massage and gentle stretching help maintain joint range of motion. This is particularly good for patients with osteoarthritis who have stiffness and pain related to muscle spasm or to soft tissue irritation around joints.
Self massage is an option. Start by putting a little vegetable oil or massage oil on the fingertips. Then work slowly around the affected joint, making small, gentle circles with your fingertips. Avoid massaging directly on the joint; stay just above and below it with the fingertips. Work on the area around the joint for three to five minutes each day.
Gentle massage may also help reduce swelling in rheumatoid arthritis. Use the effleurage stroke to work the muscle and tissue around the joint with the fingertips. Use oil or cream on the fingers to make the massage more gentle. Work the area for five to ten minutes a day.
Some of the most common therapeutic massage techniques are:
1. Swedish massage, a smooth style that promotes general relaxation, improves circulation and range of movement, and relieves muscle tension;
2. Deep-tissue massage, a style which is intended to reach the connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, and nerves, and release muscle knots called trigger points;
3. Sports massage which tends to focus on specific muscles, tendons and ligaments;
4. Reflexology, which is based on the idea that massaging specific "reflex zones" on the feet can relieve tension, ease pain, and even improve circulation in corresponding parts of your body.
Other, more specialized forms of therapeutic massage include: myofascial release, a blend of stretching and massage which works on “fascia”, the connective tissue that covers muscle; and trigger point therapy (or Myotherapy) that uses deep pressure to release trigger points.
Besides being relaxing, massage improves blood and lymph circulation and brings fresh oxygen and other nutrients to the affected tissues. Massage may also reduce the production of stress related hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine while at the same time increasing the production of pain-killing endorphins and the "feel good" hormone, serotonin.
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