The use of moderate-pressure massage therapy resulted in a range of both physical and psychological improvements among people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in their upper limbs, according to recent research.

The study, “Rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy,” involved 42 adults with rheumatoid arthritis in the upper limbs, with an average age of 51 years.

These subjects were randomly assigned to either a moderate-pressure or light-pressure massage group. The affected limb of each subject was massaged for 15 minutes by a massage therapist once a week for four weeks, focusing on the area from the wrist to the shoulder. Depending on group assignment, the pressure was either moderate or light.

In addition to these weekly 15-minute massage sessions, subjects also were taught a self-massage routine to be performed daily at home and were asked to keep a record of these self-massage sessions.

Outcome measures for this study were assessed before and after the massage sessions on the first and last days of the four-week intervention period. One of the assessment tools was VITAS, which is a pre- and post-session pain assessment that uses a visual analog scale ranging from no pain to worst possible pain.

Another outcome measure was perceived grip strength, which was evaluated on a scale from zero to 10. Anxiety was assessed using the State Anxiety Inventory; subjects’ feelings were evaluated using the Profile of Mood States; and the quality of the previous night’s sleep was recorded using the Sleep Disturbance Scale.

Physical markers were also assessed. Researchers used a talking digital exerciser to measure grip strength and a goniometer to evaluate range of motion in the wrist, elbow and shoulder.

Results of the research revealed that subjects in the moderate-pressure massage group, compared to those in the light-pressure massage group, had less pain and greater perceived grip strength following the first and last massage sessions.

“By the end of the one month period the moderate pressure massage group had less pain, greater grip strength and greater range of motion in their wrist and large upper joints (elbows and shoulders),” state the study’s authors. “Moderate pressure was critical for these effects, as has been documented in moderate pressure massage research by our group.”

Authors: Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Miguel Diego, Ph.D., Jeannette Delgado, Daniel Garcia, M.D., and C.G. Funk.

Sources: Touch Research Institutes, University of Miami School of Medicine; Fielding Graduate University; and Massage Envy. Originally published in 2013 in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 19(2), 101-103.

This research report ran in the print edition of MASSAGE Magazine‘s August 2013 issue.