Massage Helps Ease Arthritis Pain

Patients with arthritis in their knees experienced significant improvement in pain and mobility after undergoing a weekly, whole-body massage for two months, according to a study led by researchers at Duke Health. The finding - appearing in the Journal of General Internal Medicine - suggests that massage could offer a safe and effective complement to the management of knee osteoarthritis, at least in the short term. “Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability and affects more than 30 million people in America,” says lead author Adam Perlman, M.D., program director of the Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare at Duke University School of Medicine. “Medications are available, but many patients experience adverse side effects, raising the need for alternatives. This study demonstrates that massage has potential to be one such option.”

Researchers enrolled approximately 200 patients with osteoarthritis in their knees. Patients were randomly divided into three groups: those who received a one-hour, weekly Swedish massage for eight weeks; those who received a light-touch control treatment; and those who received no extra care other than their usual regimen. After eight weeks, each of the groups were again randomized to continue with massage or light-touch every other week, or to receive no treatment for the remainder of the study, which spanned 52 weeks.

Patients were assessed every two months using a standardized questionnaire called the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index. The questionnaire measures pain, stiffness and functional limitations, including how well patients can climb stairs, stand up from sitting or lying down, bend, walk or get out of a car, among other activities. At eight weeks, massage significantly improved patients’ scores on the questionnaire compared to light-touch and usual care. Massage improved pain, stiffness, and physical function.

At 52 weeks, the twice-monthly massages maintained the improvements observed at eight weeks, but did not provide an additional benefit. There were no significant differences between the groups at 52 weeks. “Massage therapy is one of the most popular complementary medicine interventions,” Perlman said. “At a time when people are looking for effective non-medication options for pain, this study provides further evidence that massage has a potential role, at least for those suffering with osteoarthritis.”

Fitness Massage

The overexertion of muscles through rigorous physical training and exercise can affect athletes’ performance and increase their risk for injury. In between those strenuous workouts, the body could use some pampering. Regular massage supports the relaxation and recovery process after workouts, helping to prevent injuries; reduce swelling, muscle stiffness and fatigue; and achieve peak performance. And there are numerous other potential benefits that are conducive to your overall health and well-being. 

Massage therapy helps improve muscle flexibility - which helps prevent injuries like muscle pulls and tears - and shorten recovery time as well as relieve muscle tension and pain, a remedy for common issues like delayed-onset muscle soreness.  But massage can benefit more than muscles. “Some research suggests that massage may also help lower anxiety, increase range of motion, improve your mood, lower blood pressure, enhance blood flow and alertness,” says Tammy Taylor, massage/bodywork team leader and a certified neuromuscular therapist at LifeBridge Health & Fitness.

Massage is good for the body either before, during or after athletic events. Sports massage incorporates Swedish - for improved circulation - and deep tissue techniques, among others. Athletes, or anyone who does strenuous exercises on a regular basis, should speak with a massage therapist about specific needs and concerns in order to determine how often massages are necessary and which techniques are most appropriate. “Your injury or needs will determine the focus of the therapy,” Taylor says.

“Often times, an athlete has a specific area in which they are experiencing pain or limited range of motion. That area, in addition to the supporting muscles and connective tissue, is addressed. A full body massage at another time, maybe within a week or two, is also very helpful for the whole body compensates for an injury, and an injury heals more quickly when the rest of the body is free of limitations,” Taylor added.

Leg Massage

An illness, an accident, or even just getting older can limit a person's capacity for exercise. Rest is an essential component of healing, but it also atrophies muscles. "People who are unable to exercise due to, for example, a recent surgery or illness, lose as much as three percent of their muscle mass per week," says Dr. Esther Dupont-Versteegden of the University of Kentucky's College of Health Sciences (CHS). "That doesn't sound like much, but it can make recovery much more difficult, especially for the elderly."

Dupont-Versteegden and her UK CHS colleague Dr. Tim Butterfield have been testing an inexpensive, non-invasive treatment that appears, in preliminary studies, to aid in the recovery of muscle mass and reduce muscle atrophy: massage. "Don't run out and get a massage when you read this," Dupont-Versteegden says.  "It might make you feel good, but it won't turn you into a body builder."

Proteins are the basic building blocks of all of the body’s tissues, especially muscle. The complicated metabolic process that turns protein into muscle, called protein synthesis, increases muscle cell size, which in turn strengthens muscle fibers.  But one of the crucial ingredients for muscle growth is exercise. "However, there are times and circumstances in which exercise is not possible because of a severe illness or surgery, for example,"  Dupont-Versteegden continued.  "Our research proposes that massage may stave off atrophy, even if you aren't able to get up and move around. “

It appears that massage mimics the effect of exercise by sending signals to the muscle to begin protein synthesis. Massaging one limb seems to confer benefit to its corresponding muscle on the other side as well. "We're not sure why yet, but if we could understand the mechanisms for this crossover effect it could have real healing benefits for patients with wounds to one limb - for example, car accident victims or wounded soldiers," says Butterfield.

Their initial work is promising enough to garner a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health to further their study in conjunction with Drs. Benjamin Miller and Karyn Hamilton from Colorado State University. The loss of skeletal muscle mass and the inability to recover from atrophy are major contributors to disability and a major factor in the elderly's loss of independence. "If we can identify new, cost-effective ways to reduce disability and improve overall health, that's an all-around win," Dupont-Versteegden added.

Massage Rollers

Facial massaging using a roller can increase skin blood flow for more than 10 minutes after the massage. It can also improve vasodilation - the widening of blood vessels - in the long-term, according to a study by researchers in Japan. What do scientists make of face massage rollers? Few studies have so far investigated the effects of using facial massage rollers over time.

To address this gap, Naoyuki Hayashi of the Institute for Liberal Arts, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and colleagues at Tokyo Healthcare University and the Research and Development Center, MTG Co. Ltd., conducted short and long-term experiments involving participation of healthy male and female volunteers to examine the effects of using a massage roller on facial skin and blood flow. In the short-term experiment, even a five-minute massage can significantly increase facial skin blood flow in the massaged cheek, with a relative change of up to around 25 percent. Visualization of the change in blood flow was achieved using a non-invasive technique called laser speckle flowgraphy.

One surprising outcome was the duration of the effect immediately after the five-minute massage. "The increase in skin blood flow after applying the massage roller persisted much longer than we had expected," the researchers say in their study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. "Short-term mechanical stimulation by a facial massage roller increased skin blood flow for more than 10 minutes solely in the massaged cheek." In the long-term experiment, the researchers examined the effects of daily massage on the right cheek over a five-week period. They also examined the reactivity of facial blood vessels to a heat stimulus, involving application of a heating probe set at 40°C, in order to test whether there were any changes in vascular dilation response.

Findings from the long-term study suggested that using a roller improved blood flow response, or the so-called vasodilatory response, to heat stimulation. One explanation for this could be that endothelial cells in the massaged area produce more nitric oxide, which is known to be a potent vasodilator.

About The Author:

With over 30 years of writing and editing experience, Kevin Kerfoot writes about health, nutrition, skin care and oral hygiene for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletters.


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