According to a study presented at the 2007 American Massage Therapy Association National Convention, “Therapeutic massage treatments, while able to achieve qualitative muscle release in an affected joint region, can also positively affect the physiological systems of a patient with RA and help to alleviate and prolong the deteriorating effects of the disease.” A 2013 study also showed that patients with RA in the upper limbs benefited from moderate pressure massage therapy.
“I feel that massage has helped alleviate some of my symptoms. I had a one-hour massage weekly to biweekly for about six months. I believe that by working my muscles it relaxed them, and had less pull on my joints. Plus, it relaxed me, and helped with general pain perception,” said Robin Spector Edds, an RA patient from Flat Rock, Michigan.
Many doctors agree. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases claims that, when done by a trained professional, methods like massage can help control pain, increase joint motion, and improve muscle and tendon flexibility. Events such as Healing Hands for Arthritis bring more awareness to the idea of using massage as a treatment for RA and other inflammatory types of arthritis.
"Massage can be beneficial for temporary relief for patients with RA. Swedish massage is the most common type that RA patients ask for," said Kindle Fisher, an exercise physiologist and massage therapist at Greentree Chiropractic in Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania. "Each person has different pain levels and pain tolerances, so it is up to the massage therapist to communicate with the patient, and for the patient to provide proper feedback.
"A benefit to massage for arthritis patients is that it increases blood flow to certain areas of pain, which helps promote healing and gives a temporary relief," she added. "However, I believe that deep tissue massage may be a negative treatment plan for some patients with RA. The pressure during the massage can be intense and may cause more pain and stiffness to some patients."
The Arthritis Foundation suggests researching different types of massages, as every RA patient is different. Robyn Alexander of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said, “I love a deep tissue massage. I get a biweekly 30-minute massage and then every 4 to 6 weeks, a one-hour full body massage. It made a difference in my mobility, stress levels, and sleep. I can always tell a difference when I miss one and my therapist is sensitive to where I might be hurting or swollen.”
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