Osteoarthritis and Massage Therapy Research
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and affects 32.5 million adults in the US alone. Some people call it degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. It occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees.
With OA, the cartilage within a joint begins to break down and the underlying bone begins to change. These changes usually develop slowly and get worse over time. OA can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling. In some cases, it also causes reduced function and disability; some people are no longer able to do daily tasks or work.
It's hard to find good research on massage therapy for osteoarthritis because of the difficulty in measuring relaxation and well-being objectively. Still, some small studies have shown that massage therapy can be effective for various arthritis-related pains:
Low back pain
People who participated in 10 massage therapy sessions saw improvements in their chronic low-back pain, according to a study published in the July 2017 issue of the journal Pain Medicine.
A study published in 2014 in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that massage therapy can help relieve pain and increase range of motion in people with neck arthritis.
A study published in 2006 in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who received massage therapy for knee osteoarthritis reported seeing improvements in their pain and stiffness. A follow-up study, published in 2012 in PLoS One, found that the optimal treatment for relief is a weekly 60-minute session of Swedish massage. A study in the August 2015 Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine also found that Chinese massage therapy can bring short-term relief from osteoarthritis knee pain.
Although there’s no proof that shows how massage therapy works, the Arthritis Foundation notes that it may lower the production of the stress hormone cortisol and increase the levels of mood-boosting hormones like serotonin.