Can Massage Help Arthritis?

{For several years, Bill hosted "Massage Moment", a radio spot nestled within Lionville Natural Pharmacy owner Ben Briggs' Saturday morning radio show, Health Focus on WCOJ. These 3-to-4-minute gems covered topics ranging from stress to common bio-mechanical injuries, to answering questions such as 'should I get massage before or after chiropractic?'

Listen to the audio here, aired originally in 2007.}

Q: Can therapeutic massage help with arthritis?

A: Well, it depends...

First of all, let's define our terms. Arthritis is a name given to several different types of chronic disease states involving inflammation, swelling, and pain in the joints.

There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The three most common are rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gouty arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a systemic arthritis that destroys the synovial membranes of joints. Basically what happens is that the synovial membranes are replaced by fibrous tissues, which add to joint stiffness and decreases the range of motion. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease.

People with rheumatoid arthritis experience 'flare ups' and remission. Massage is not recommended for people with rheumatoid arthritis during a flare up! However, while in remission, massage can help reduce stress, and gentle range of motion techniques can help to increase joint mobility.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic, progressive erosion of the articular cartilage due to chronic inflammation. The most common sites are weight-bearing joints such as ankles or knees. Osteoarthritis is more common than rheumatoid arthritis, and is found most commonly in the elderly population.

Massage for someone with osteoarthritis is okay, provided the therapist does not use excessive pressure. Deep tissue and range of motion techniques are contraindicated due to the risk of injuring the client.

Gouty arthritis is characterized by an abnormal build-up of uric acid in the body. In most cases, uric acid is eliminated from the body through the urine. But some folks, usually males, either produce too much uric acid, or are, for one reason or another, unable to excrete the acid from their blood stream.

The end result is that the uric acid converts to sodium urate crystals, which end up settling in the soft tissue around the joints, typically the feel and toes, causing irritation, pain and swelling.

In cases of gouty arthritis, massage is strictly contraindicated!

Actually, there's a fourth common type of arthritis that is becoming more popular... and that's Lyme Disease.

Lyme Disease, also called Lyme Arthritis, is a recurrent form of arthritis caused by a bacteria transmitted through a tick bit. (It got the name "Lyme" because the condition first showed up in Lyme, Connecticut.)

It affects large joints, such as the knee and the hip, with inflammation, along with headaches, fever, and a scaly red skin eruption.

Generally, a gentle full-body massage is indicated. Passive range of motion techniques can help maintain joint mobility. If, however, the client is experiencing wide-spread inflammation, then massage is contraindicated.

So, as you can see, when dealing with arthritis, there a lot of things to consider. As always, it's best to ask your doctor if they think massage is a good idea or not.

This is Bill Bryan, and you've been listening to a Massage Moment.

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