Symptoms of Osteoarthritis & How Massage Therapy Can Help

Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis that affects the joints and causes inflammation and pain. It commonly affects the age group above 60 years, which is why there is going to be an increase in the number of sufferers in the coming years with a growing aging population. It is projected to increase from 46 million registered cases in 2006 to 65 million by 2030 in the USA. Massage therapy is known to provide some relief from pain, especially in the hands and knees, and massage therapists should know how to detect and properly treat the pain in order to be really effective.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is defined by joint stiffness, pain, tenderness, loss of mobility and swelling of the tissue around joints. The pain is described as a dull aching, but sometimes sudden movements may trigger a sharp pain. In certain cases, there may even be contractions and spasms in the tendons. These symptoms are most commonly seen in the knees, hips, and joints in the hands and lower back.

The pain commonly tends to get worse during physical activity, while during rest it gets better. Stiffness may follow long periods of inactivity such as sleeping or sitting, lasting for an hour and usually going away with stretching and exercise. At times, the pain can become bad enough to wake the patient at night. Osteoarthritis of the knee can impair the patient’s ability to perform daily activities such as bathing and dressing. However, general fatigue and weakness are not symptoms of this disease.

Osteoarthritis is not diagnosed through a single test, but requires a collection of different diagnostic tools and examinations. This can include a physical examination that checks for tenderness, warmth, stiffness, or fluid in the joints. Doctors may also look at medical histories of the patient and their families, and carry out blood and urine tests as well as imaging tests.

Affects of Massage Therapy

The benefits of massage therapy for arthritis have seldom been scientifically studied, but in a few studies that have been conducted, beginning with one in 2003, which indicates that massage therapy was found to be effective and helped patients relieve pain and start walking more as compared to the control group. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institute of Health, affirms that there are few risks of massage therapy when conducted by a trained professional.

The benefits of massage therapy for osteoarthritis patients include:

  • Increased blood circulation
  • Reduced swelling and improved flexibility through the increased blood flow.
  • Relief from pain and muscular tension by providing stimulus that blocks pain signals from being sent to the brain.
  • Enhanced overall relaxation and sense of wellness which could be the result of a shift from the sympathetic nervous system which responds to stress, and to parasympathetic nervous system, which helps slow down breathing and stabilizes heart rate, dilates the blood vessels, and improves the digestive system.
  • Stimulation of chemical release such serotonin and endorphins.
  • Improvements in sleep which also helps with pain management and healing.
  • Production of beneficial biochemical changes such as the prevention of fibrosis and increased lymph flow, which is part of the immune system.

As a massage therapist, you can provide pain relief to patients suffering from this disease and improve their overall quality of life considerably. However, it is important to be familiar with human anatomy and the physiology of this disease in order to be able to help the patient effectively. It is also important to keep your interaction with the patient pleasant, as this can also go a long way in helping relieve the stress of having to deal with such a painful ongoing medical condition.