Research Highlight: Massage for knee arthritis eases pain

Cartilage is our friend.

Protective cartilage on the ends of our bones cushions the bones and allows easy movement. Over time, though, this firm yet slippery tissue wears down, and the rough surface creates friction. Friction creates pain. The pain intensifies when cartilage breaks down entirely and bone rubs on bone.

This is the most basic definition of osteoarthritis, which is also known as wear-and-tear arthritis and degenerative arthritis. Not surprisingly, it develops most often in joints we use a lot: hands, neck, lower back, hips and knees.

We commonly see clients with joint pain, inflammation, and connective tissue conditions. We also see many clients who have rheumatic conditions such as gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis has no cure; treatment is about managing symptoms of pain and stiffness and increasing range of motion. A new study suggests a massage regimen for knee osteoarthritis helps decrease pain and improve function.

The study is especially important because the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, funded the research.

The findings? Weekly massage for knee arthritis decreased pain and stiffness and increased functionality for at least 16 weeks after the massages ended, according to a 2012 study.

In the study, 125 adults with osteoarthritis of the knee were assigned to eight-week regimens that included usual care with no massage, 30-minute massages once or twice week, and 60-minute massages once or twice a week. Baseline metrics included participants’ ratings of pain, based on an accepted arthritis index; range of motion and time to walk 50 feet.

Massage therapists involved followed protocols for techniques and massage strokes to be used on specific body regions to keep treatment patients received as uniform as possible.

People in the group that received massage for knee arthritis demonstrated “significant improvement” over baseline at weeks 16 and 24. Researchers found the people who received 60-minute massages once a week reported the greatest reduction in pain.

At our practice we’ve successfully treated cases of osteoarthritis and pain associated with rheumatic conditions by reducing pain, increasing range of motion, restoring function, and decreasing the need for NSAIDs and other pain medications.

The study, “Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized dose-finding trial,” was originally published in PLoS One. 2012; 7(2):e30248.