Osteoarthritis is one of the oldest common ailments known to man. It affects nearly 12% of all people from their early teens to mid-70’s. It occurs when the wear and tear of age, injuries, and/or everyday life breaks down the cartilage cushion between joints (cartilage is the firm, rubbery tissue that cushions bones and surrounds our joints, allowing them to glide over one another). Osteoarthritis can also be the result of genetics or being overweight. Without cartilage present bones rub together and cause swelling, pain, stiffness, and limited mobility.
While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are a myriad of options to help deal with the symptoms that come with it. These options range from standard treatments like pain medication and surgery, to new advanced treatments like platelet rich plasma and hyaluronic acid injections. But, one of the oldest common ailments known to man can also benefit from one of the oldest treatments known to man: massage therapy.
If you’ve ever had a massage, you know it has universal benefits everyone enjoys: relaxation, decreased stress, and an increased sense of well-being. To be frank, it just plain feels good. Those are great benefits for everyone in today’s world, but the benefits of massage therapy for osteoarthritis go even deeper. Massage for osteoarthritis is simple. It works by massaging the muscles, tendons, and supporting tissue of the affected joint(s), which results in decreased tension. Massage also stimulates blood flow and can relieve stiffness and pain around the joint. This should allow for increased range of motion and smoother mobility. The increased blood flow will bring more oxygen to the arthritic areas and assist in healing.
Research has shown that massage can reduce the release of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as increase the production of serotonin – the body’s ‘feel good’ hormone. Massage can also limit the release of neurotransmitter substance P – which is linked to pain – and improve sleep. It’s similarly been shown to help increase hand grip strength and overall function of the joints, while releasing the toxic, inflammatory elements that cause swelling. In fact, findings at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging showed that massage therapy for people who have musculoskeletal injuries because of exercise can be just as effective on swelling as anti-inflammatory drugs.
As with anything, there are drawbacks to consider, but they are very minimal compared to surgery and medications. Any massage must be carefully considered with the frail and elderly. It is done by squeezing and putting pressure on muscles, so it may not be right for people who would find pain in such things. It’s also not recommended for people on blood thinners or those who are prone to bleeding as the increased blood flow could lead to complications. Some insurance companies will cover a limited amount of massages per year, while others won’t pay for any. The good thing is if your insurance company doesn’t allow any, they can be very affordable. A lot of centers give discounts to frequent customers.
What to Look For
Massage is a non-invasive, drug free option for knee osteoarthritis and other ailments, when considering an alternative treatment you’ll want to discuss it with your doctor first. If your doctor thinks it could be right for you, there are several things to consider. First, you want to look for a therapist who is experienced in massage for osteoarthritis, and you want them to be state certified. A qualified therapist could have one or more of several different recognized certifications, such as: Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), Certified Massage Therapist (CMT), Licensed Massage Practitioner, etc. You may even find that your physical therapists office already offers these services.