Using Massage for Arthritis Symptom Relief

Can Massage Help With Osteoarthritis Symptoms?

Massage for ArthritisOne of the most frustrating aspects of being an osteoarthritis (OA) sufferer is navigating through the excessive amounts of “cures” or “guaranteed” remedies that are advertised to help us. It’s hard enough to suffer from the disease, let alone filter out all the useless and gimmicky therapies promised as pain relief.

Because of the massive amounts of therapies offered for osteoarthritis relief, I have become skeptical over the years towards any therapy being as effective as advertised. That being said, one of the more substantial remedies offered nowadays is massage therapy.

Whether it is from a machine, a generous significant other, or a trained massage therapist, massage therapy is becoming one of the most popular complementary therapies offered and some people swear by it.

So can massage help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis? Before I answer this question, I want to investigate the topic further.

What Is Massage?

I think it’s important we define the topic before we analyze whether it is effective. According to the Mayo Clinic, massage is the term we use for “pressing, rubbing and manipulating your skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments.”

Simple enough, right? Wrong. To complicate things, there are quite a few different types of massage: Swedish, deep, sports, and trigger point are a few of the many different variations of massage.

Massage can be applied with the hands, elbows, knees, feet, or a massage device. Each different massage varies by the amount of pressure applied, the patterns of pressure applied over the body, and the amount of time the pressure is applied to the specific area.


Depending on the application or technique used, massage is used to promote relaxation, wellbeing, and pain relief.

What Is the Mechanism Behind the Potential Pain-Relieving Effects of Massage?

Weirdly enough, the reason for massage’s positive effects are not well understood. The following are a few of the theories as to what is the underlying mechanism for why massage is helpful:

Mechanical Pressure

Massage produces a mechanical pressure on the specific muscle being massaged, and that can increase muscle’s compliance and be less stiff. This increased compliance can result in increased range of joint motion and decreased active stiffness.

Mechanical pressure can also stimulate blood flow into the applied area. This increased blood flow can improve the circulation of the lymph fluid, which carries metabolic waste away from muscles and other tissues, resulting in improved overall body function.

Lastly, increasing muscle temperature from rubbing can decrease stiffness.

Changes in Your Hormones and Nervous System

Another theory is that massage alters the nervous system (as measured by blood pressure and heart rate) and hormonal levels. These changes in the nervous system and hormones after a massage are attributed to the physiological relax response that massage can trigger in the body.


This one probably makes the most sense. A reduction in anxiety and an improvement in mood state can lead one to perceive that they are experiencing less pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis of another disease.

Positives of Massage

Aside from its potential pain-relieving effects, massage has a major advantage compared to typical osteoarthritis therapies. The biggest advantage is compared to OA medication, injections, or surgeries, there are minimal negative side effects associated with massage.

After an hour-long massage session, the only part of you that is likely to suffer is your wallet. That being said, I do recommend asking your doctor whether it is alright if you are going to try massage therapy for the first time.

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