osteoarthritis pain massage therapist and patientThat lingering pain in a knee, hip, elbow or wrist could be a sign of osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease.

Osteoarthritis will affect many Americans in the course of their lives.

For example, almost 50 percent of people will develop symptomatic knee osteoarthritis by the time they turn 85 years old, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 27 million Americans have the disease.

Massage Helps Relieve Osteoarthritis Pain

Several published studies have indicated that massage helps relieve osteoarthritis pain. To mark World Arthritis Day on Oct. 12, MASSAGE Magazine presents this guide to the top five benefits derived from massage therapy for osteoarthritis sufferers:

  1. Better posture. Massage to realign posture will reduce unequal weight distribution throughout the body, which the joints usually receive with unhealthy posture. Joints properly stacked vis-à-vis each other will witness a healthy distribution of body weight and ground reactive force. This will reduce the weight burden load upon each joint.
  1. Joint flexibility. Friction strokes will positively impact joint structures by aiding in the removal of collagenous tissue bound within joint structures. Collagen settles in areas of injury to patch these sites. These patchwork scars contribute to the lack of mobility and stiffness felt by people with osteoarthritis. Proper range of motion can be restored with massage techniques.
  1. Pain management. Classic Swedish massage—effleurage, petrissage and tapotement—reduces pain by directly impacting nerves. Because joint structures have many nerve endings located within and around the local regions, osteoarthritis pain can be managed greatly with massage therapy.
  1. Decreased swelling. Wringing strokes to push extracellular fluid proximally upon a limb can greatly reduce swelling of an affected joint structure. This benefit augments the prior four benefits mentioned and may expedite the body’s healing processes.
  1. Movement re-education. As the massage client begins to experience proper joint mobility, the nervous system will begin re-educating itself via proprioceptive activity. Efficient movement patterns can be restored compared to pre-osteoarthritis patterns.

These benefits of massage therapy will greatly aid the osteoarthritic patient and slow the progression of this condition. (Information presented is never intended to replace advice from a medical professional. An osteoarthritic massage client should have a discussion with his primary care provider to determine how massage therapy can be implemented into the client’s treatment plan.)

More facts about osteoarthritis

  • Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. This condition is typically noninflammatory and usually affects weight-bearing joints such as the hands, knees, hips and spine. This condition breaks down the articular (hyaline) cartilage at the ends of bones.
  • Healthy cartilage acts as a substance to allow bones to glide against each other smoothly in pain-free motion. This cartilage appears pink and smooth on cadavers, however it appears chipped away and rough where arthritis has presented. When this cartilage wears away, bone surfaces will grind against each other with movement, thereby causing intense pain, swelling and reduced motion in joints. Other signs and symptoms include the development of bone spurs, point tenderness and stiffness of affected joints.
  • Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, meaning it gradually worsens over time. Risk factors to consider with the progression of this condition include prior joint injury, body weight, occupational and recreational demands, genetics, bone malformations and concurrent diseases.


About the Author

Jimmy Gialelis, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., is owner of Advanced Massage Arts & Education in Tempe, Arizona. He is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved provider of continuing education, and teaches “Working with Pathologies—Arthritis” and many other classes. He wrote “Fibromyalgia: Massage Therapy Considerations” for MASSAGE Magazine’s July 2015 print issue.