Could a whole body massage improve knee arthritis symptoms?

massage and knee arthritis symptoms

We’re all aware of the many benefits a session with the masseuse can bring, whether you’re coming off an injury or not: as well as reducing pain and stiffness, it can improve the circulation, reduce stress, anxiety and depression, remove dead skin cells and even provide a boost to the functionality of the immune system. But according to research from North Carolina, a full-on rub-down can also have beneficial properties for those suffering from knee osteoarthritis.

According to the study, which was conducted by researchers from the Duke University of Medicine in Durham, NC, a weekly, whole-body massage for two months could help knee OA sufferers experience ‘significant improvement’ in pain and mobility, and that massage could offer a safe and effective complement to the management of knee osteoarthritis, at least in the short term.

Could a knead improve your knees?

The study – which lasted a year –involved 200 patients who suffered from knee osteoarthritis, who were randomly divided into three groups – one group which received a one-hour, weekly Swedish massage for eight weeks (a technique which uses long strokes, circular movements of applied pressure, and kneading in order to relax muscles, reduce soreness, and increase oxygen flow), one group which received a light-touch control treatment, and one group which received no extra care other than their usual regimen.

After eight weeks, each of the groups were again randomised into three separate groups, to continue with massage or light-touch every other week, or to receive no treatment for the remainder of the study, for the rest of the year. Every two months, each study group was medically assessed for pain, stiffness and functional limitations, including how well they could climb stairs, stand up from sitting or lying down, bend, walk or get out of a car.

There’s the rub

The results? After just eight weeks, the group undergoing massage had significantly improved scores over the other two groups, with a marked improvement in pain reduction, stiffness reduction, and physical function. And by the end of the study, the twice-monthly massage group maintained the improvements observed at eight weeks, but did not provide an additional benefit, with no significant differences between the groups at 52 weeks.

Why could regular massage relieve knee OA? The jury is still out on that one, but America’s Arthritis Foundation speculates that a session on the table can take the edge off all manner of arthritis ailments due to the fact that it’s a proven stress reliever, which has the potential to reduce cortisol levels, as well as boost the production of endorphins. Having relaxed muscles as a result of massage could be a key point, but the links between massage and reduced knee OA are still a mystery to the medical community.

Whatever the reason, a regular massage session could be the ticket for the reduction of knee pain, but you should be cautious if you have very damaged arthritic joints, a flare of inflammation, severe osteoporosis or high blood pressure. Your knee surgeon can advise you on whether massage is an appropriate treatment for you.