The People's Perspective on Medicine

Could Massage Make Your Knees Feel Better?

A study comparing whole-body Swedish massage to light touch or usual treatment found that the full-body technique reduced the pain from arthritic knees.

A weekly whole-body massage sounds like a luxury, but new research suggests it could help people with knee arthritis live with less pain (Journal of General Internal Medicine, online Dec 12, 2018). It is not clear exactly how this technique works, though, since the massage is not limited to the area around the knees.

Conducting the Study:

Investigators recruited 200 patients with osteoarthritis of the knees. They provided a one-hour Swedish massage session every week for eight weeks to one-third of these people. One-third of them got a light touch treatment to serve as a control group. The final third received no additional treatment beyond their usual care.

After eight weeks, the investigators randomly assigned people in the massage group to continue with bi-weekly treatment or none. In addition, individuals in the usual care group were offered the opportunity to participate in eight weeks of massage after the first six months.

The participants filled out a standardized questionnaire called the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index (WOMAC). This validated scale is designed specifically to measure arthritis symptoms. The volunteers also rated their pain, demonstrated range of motion of their knees, and walked 50 feet. The researchers timed the walk to evaluate speed and ease of walking.

How Well Did Massage Relieve Pain?

Volunteers who got massages reported significant improvement on the WOMAC score at eight weeks. They also rated their pain and stiffness significantly better on other measures. Once the intervention was complete, however, the benefits started to fade. After one year, the various study groups did not have different WOMAC scores. Perhaps this is partly because of the cross-over between groups following the initial eight-week period.

One advantage of massage over medication: no side effects were reported. That is not always the case for treatments such as steroid shots or arthroscopic surgery. NSAID pain relievers and even acetaminophen also have potential adverse effects, so patients must weigh the benefits of pain relief against the risks.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Massage by a qualified therapist can help most all of our aches and pains. Too bad more of it is not recommended by doctors and paid for by insurers. it is more cost-effective than just another pill.

I get a massage every other week; not the soft touch kind, the “I need a shot of tequila” kind. It’s been 5 years since I’ve needed any pain meds or injections. I was told 10 years ago I would probably need my knee replaced in 5 years. I do have RA, as does half my family. They have all had their knees replaced. My masseuse really works those ligaments and tendons. I was also able to stop getting injections in my elbow for tendinitis by doing the same thing when the problem flares up.

This was not covered by insurance, so you might need to have some extra cash lying around.

I have been a Licensed Massage Therapist since 1997 so I know how effective massage therapy can be! There are also no worries about drug side effects with massage therapy by a trained and licensed therapist. I had a knee replacement in 2016 at age 57 that did NOT go well, and I am now left with an extremely stiff and practically unbendable knee even after 6 months in Physical Therapy with three different therapists! Knee replacements do not always go well, so be careful when you make the decision to undergo this irreversible surgery that many times does not give the desired outcome or freedom from pain. Massage therapy is a safe and effective modality to try first to help with stretching and flexibility of painful knees, but eventually the need for knee replacement will come for many people who live a long life.

Massage stimulates the lymph system, which will help flush inflammation.

Have you heard of Phoenix Thera Laser treatments, and do they work?

The company is currently conducting a study: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02964000

I have arthritis and try to get a medical deep tissue massage once a month. It helps.

Massage can be completely free for both you and your spouse if you both learn how to massage each other! What could be better?

Swedish massage works with the body to help the body heal itself. Swedish massage improves circulation increasing blood flow to the extremeties and skeletal muscles. Increased blood flow means increased oxygen and nutrients that can be used to help maintain or improve health and wellness, or actually accelerate repair and recovery. It also provides for better flow of lymph through our lymphatic system, this too helps overall health and recovery. (The Vodder method of MLD, manual lymphatic drainage, further benefits the client. MLD absolutely requires a light, precisely patterend touch, but MLD is not specified here in this article.) As blood flow is increased to the extremeties and skeletal muscles during the massage session, blood flow is decreased to the visceral organs and brain, blood pressure also decreases.

Increased blood to the muscles induces relaxation, decreased blood flow and pressure to the brain induces sleep, both relieve tension. Swedish massage is indicated more often than Shiatsu or Rolfing, and you may be able to get a good Swedish massage at a very good discount! Massage schools need clients for their students to practice on. The students are learning, thus they are closely supervised by their instructors, professionally licensed(/registered) massage therapists. Clients receive deep discounts for these services and often become regular student clients. Booking student services can be difficult but rewarding, I’m speaking from experience.

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