Arthritis is a major health issue impacting around 350 million people around the world. There’s currently no cure for the condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints, but researchers now believe whole-body massages could help ease pain and improve mobility in patients with arthritis of the knee.
The findings, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine by researchers from the Duke Medical Center, found patients who received a whole-body massage once a week for two months saw significant improvements. Researchers are now hopeful massage could be a safe and effective complement to the management of knee osteoarthritis.
“Medications are available, but many patients experience adverse side effects, raising the need to alternatives,” lead author of the study Adam Perlman said in a statement. “This study demonstrates that massage has potential to be one such option.”
For the study, 200 patients with osteoarthritis in their knees were split into three groups. One group received a one-hour weekly Swedish massage for eight weeks, the second group received light-touch control treatment, while the third group didn’t receive any extra care.
After two months, the groups were randomised again so patients either continued with massage or light-touch treatment every other week, or received no treatment for the remainder of the study. This continued for a year.
Each patient was assessed every two months using a standardised questionnaire which measured pain, stiffness and function limitations including how well a patient could climb stairs, stand up from sitting or lying down, bend, walk or get out of a car.
Researchers discovered that at eight weeks, massage significantly improved patients’ scores on the questionnaire compared to light-touch treatment and regular care. Patients said massage improved their pain, stiffness and physical function.
The study also found that at 52 weeks, the twice-monthly message maintained the improvements observed at eight weeks, but didn’t provide additional benefit. There was no significant difference between the groups at 52 weeks.
“Massage therapy is one of the most popular complementary medicine interventions,” Perlman added. “At a time when people are looking for effective non-medication options for pain, this study provides further evidence that massage has a potential role, at least for those suffering with osteoarthritis.”
In addition to the knees, osteoarthritis can impact the hands, spine, knees and hips. Patients typically experience pain and stiffness, but can also notice swelling and tenderness. It usually develops in people from their mid-40s and while an exact cause is not known, is thought to be the result of joint injuries, age, family history and even obesity.
It is always important to talk to a GP or health professional about arthritis as the condition and treatment options can vary from person to person.