Research Exclusive: Self-Massage Improves Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis, MASSAGE MagazinePeople diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis who applied a self-massage protocol to the quadriceps muscle twice weekly for about 12 weeks exhibited significant improvements on the Western Ontario and McMaster’s Osteoarthritis Index, particularly in regard to pain, stiffness and function, according to recent research.

The study, “The Effects of Self-Massage on Osteoarthritis of the Knee: a Randomized, Controlled Study,” involved 40 men and women diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis. In order to participate in the study, subjects had to be at least 50 years old with no limitations that prevented the mobility of the knee.

Participants were randomly assigned to either the self-massage group or the control group. Those in the control group continued their usual care and had four supervised assessments, with no intervention; however, they were given the option of learning the self-massage protocol after the research period ended.

Subjects in the self-massage group were trained to perform supervised self-massage twice a week for eight weeks, followed by unsupervised self-massage twice a week for three weeks, followed by one more supervised session during the final week of the study.

The supervised self-massage sessions lasted one hour, including 10 minutes of preparation, 20 minutes of self-massage and 30 minutes for the assessment of outcome measures. During each session, one research therapist narrated the scripted self-massage sequence, while another one led the self-massage sequence as the subject followed along.

Participants were instructed to perform a five-minute warm-up, gently stretching their shoulders, arms and wrist before beginning the self-massage session. They were then trained to apply moderate-to-deep effleurage and tapotement to the top, lateral and medial aspects of the quadriceps muscle, followed by friction strokes around the knee.

“The decision to choose the massage strokes and to use the quadriceps muscle was based on the muscles’ function and location in knee [osteoarthritis],” state the study’s authors.

The main outcome measures for this study were the Western Ontario and McMaster’s Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) and knee range of motion. The WOMAC is a survey that evaluates changes in pain, joint stiffness and physical function. Each question is scored on a 5-point scale ranging from 0 to 4. A higher score than 4 on the WOMAC indicated greater perceived pain, stiffness and functional limitations, according to researchers. Knee range of motion was assessed using a universal goniometer.

Results of the research revealed statistically significant improvements on WOMAC pain, stiffness and function scores, along with total mean WOMAC scores, among subjects in the self-massage group. No such improvements were detected in the control group, and neither group showed any significant changes in knee range of motion.

“The study demonstrated that participants who have [osteoarthritis] of the knee benefit from the self-massage intervention therapy,” the study’s authors conclude.

Authors: Dorothea V. Atkins and David A. Eichler.

Sources: Holos University Graduate Seminary, Bolivar, Missouri. Originally published in March 2013 in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 6(1), 4-14.