4 Things You Need to Know about Arthritis and Massage Therapy

When you’re used to feeling sore, it can be only natural to shy away from touch. But think again: massage therapy from a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) can be an excellent short-term, drug-free way to soothe arthritis pain and stiffness and help you keep moving. Here’s what you need to know about adding massage therapy to your arthritis treatment toolkit.

Understand the science behind the relief

How does massage help ease arthritis symptoms? The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMSD) states that massage by an RMT can help decrease arthritis pain and improve flexibility in the muscles, joints and tendons. As Claire Gavin, a Toronto-based RMT explains, “Massage helps relieve pain and eases the muscle stiffness associated with arthritis by improving circulation, helping to reduce inflammation. That translates to enhanced blood flow to arthritic joints, improved movement, and reduced pain,”. She adds that massage uses soft tissue manipulation to help release muscle tension for better flexibility and pain relief. And as most people with arthritis can attest, less pain and more flexibility helps keep you moving, which in turn helps keep you out of the cycle of being sore, stiff and sedentary.

Different symptoms, different benefits

Massage can help different forms of arthritis in specific ways. For example, if you are living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), massage can improve healthy circulation throughout the arthritic joints, reducing swelling and improving quality of life. Avoid massages on affected joints during an RA flare up, however. For osteoarthritis, massage can help decrease swelling and pain, improve joint mobility and provide tension and stress relief.

Communication is key

Check with your family doctor or rheumatologist to see if massage therapy is safe and appropriate for your form of arthritis. At your first massage appointment, arrive 15 minutes early to fill out your health history form, which you and your RMT will discuss so they can develop an appropriate treatment plan. Some types of massage may not be right for you, such as deep tissue massage or massage on or near an arthritic joint during a flare. Your health care team can help you assess the best approach for you. If you have an employee health benefits plan, some or all of your massage might be covered, so make sure to check with your insurer and keep your receipt.

What to expect from your first appointment

In addition to reviewing your health history and prescriptions, your RMT will ask about specific pain points and may gently assess your range of motion. Then the therapist will leave the room so you can change. A lot of people wonder: Do you have to take off everything but your underwear for the treatment? If you’re comfortable with that, that’s fine, or you can wear loose fitting clothes like sweatpants and a T-shirt. Then you lie down on the padded massage table, under the fresh sheets, and your RMT will knock to see if you’re ready. The RMT will only undrape the part of your body that’s being massaged. Make sure to tell your therapist if you’re feeling pain so they can adjust their approach. After your massage, you might feel a little light-headed, so take your time getting up from the treatment table. Your therapist will leave the room again so you can change, then will come back in to discuss self-care (like drinking lots of water post-massage) and any follow-up treatment. He or she may be able to suggest some at-home stretches too, to help keep that relaxed, post-massage feeling going.

If you’re looking for drug-free, short-term relief from arthritis pain and stiffness, consider adding massage therapy to your treatment options.

With the generous support from Massage Addict.

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