Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis: Massage- a practical way to get relief from pain and improve joint mobility
In my previous article about Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment, I discussed how fomentation can help reduce pain in RA. Is there any other method to help overcome the discomfort of RA? Yes, there is. Along with fomentation, you give your affected joint a good massage.
By now you must be very well aware that rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that affects the body’s joints. It also affects the surrounding tissues of the joint like the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, making them sore and stiff due to disuse. According to the American College of Rheumatology, different type of arthritis affects more than 44 million people in the United States, and this number is expected to rise. Out of these, Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common form of autoimmune disease that affects nearly 2.5 million Americans and more than 460/ 100000 worldwide.
In this article, we will learn how the second method- massage– can help RA patients. If you would prefer to skip reading and listen instead, I have prepared an audio for you. Click the button below to listen-
What is Massage?
Massage is a single word used to describe pressing, kneading, and rubbing a part of our body like skin, muscles, and joints to relieve the underlying tension and pain in that part. For e.g., in India whenever one goes to have a haircut or a shave, the barber offers a complimentary massage to the head at the end. Or he may suggest a massage of the upper part of our body like the shoulders, hands, and the back. I usually opt for the later one. You can feel the tense muscle easing after such a service.
In this article, we will discuss the benefits of massage in treating rheumatoid arthritis. We will also list the various types of massage that can be beneficial for treating this disease.
How massage helps in rheumatoid arthritis
Do you know that massage therapy can help with rheumatoid arthritis? How will you react if someone tells you that the best way to deal with pain and stress is by getting a massage! It’ll be like ‘what?’. But, it is true. Massage therapy plays an important role in dealing with pain and joint stiffness that comes with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Massage is a well-established treatment strategy for many conditions. In a number of trials, massage therapy was as effective as medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, the best way to understand how massage works in RA is to look at the underlying mechanism:-
The Underlying Mechanism of Pain Generation and Inflammation
Let us first understand what is pain. Pain is an unpleasant sensation that can originate from a variety of different sources.
It is found in the body’s tissues and organs because of damage sustained to these tissues by the body’s own cells. in the case of RA, the synovial membrane surrounding the joint gets inflamed. The nerves supplying the synovial joint transmit the pain sensation to the brain via a particular pathway that goes through the spinal cord as shown below.
Pain receptors are found in the muscles, joints, and skin. When these receptors are activated by the presence of pain, the brain receives the signal via the nerve pathway and the response is to stop the movement of that area so that it gets proper rest to overcome the inflammation( have a look at the short video clip below).
This signal travels to the brain along two nerve pathways, the A-delta, and the C-fibers. In the case of RA, the A-delta nerve pathway is blocked.
When people with RA get the pain associated with RA, the C-fibers are activated and the brain receives the signal, resulting in the usual negative symptoms that come with RA like joint stiffness and pain. For a piece of in-depth knowledge on how pain travels to the brain, see this picture below-
Now that you know how pain sensation is perceived, it becomes easier to understand how a good massage helps in relieving pain. As an example, let’s consider backache. Below is an image showing how pain of backache travels to the brain via the spinal cord-
Similarly, pain receptors present in the affected joints and it’s surrounding tissues convey the pain to the brain. A massage in this area has a numbing effect on these pain points.
Effects of Massage on Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are several advantages of massage therapy in the treatment of RA.
- Firstly, it can help with pain and muscle spasms, as discussed above.
- It can also help with joint stiffness because massage encourages the flow of blood and nutrients to the joints.
- Massage also promotes relaxation. Stress and anxiety are reduced, and muscles are loosened up, which can help with joint immobility.
The 5 Benefits of Massage in RA
Massage therapy can be used as a form of exercise and is a great way to manage arthritis pain. How? It helps you stretch your muscles which in turn improves joint flexibility. But, massage therapy is not only about stretching your muscles. It also involves the manipulation of the joints, soft tissue manipulation, and some other techniques which help in loosening up the stiff muscles and joints. Massage therapy increases blood circulation and clears your mind by releasing endorphins which are ‘feel-good’ hormones.
**The 5 benefits of massage therapy for people with RA**
1) Reduces pain:
Massage therapy has been proven to reduce pain in many people who suffer from arthritis. Massage therapy has analgesic properties as it improves circulation and releases endorphins, natural painkillers produced by the brain.
2) Improves sleep quality:
Massage therapy has been shown to improve sleep quality by reducing stress and anxiety that cause difficulty sleeping.
3) Lifts mood:
The mood-improving benefits of massage therapy are well documented with many studies reporting that it reduces depression caused due to various reasons like chronic illness, disability, and even terminal illness.
4) Increases energy level:
Massage therapy can increase energy levels by relieving fatigue. With better energy levels, it becomes easier to perform routine tasks as well as participate in activities that require more physical energy like sports or exercises- all important aspects in dealing with rheumatoid arthritis!
5) Boosts immune system function:
Massages have been found to boost immune system function because they increase the production of natural killer cells which are important to overcome inflammation.
Types of Massage for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Basically, there are two types of massage used in treating RA. They are-
- This type of massage is done with the intention of
- helping to relieve pain, and
- it’s also done to promote relaxation.
- It is often done with the use of soft, warm, and leathery hands.
- This type of massage is also known to decrease muscle spasms and relieve joint stiffness.
- helping to relieve pain, and
- This type of massage is a combination of
- and Siddha therapies,
- They are all ancient traditional Indian therapies.
- Ayurvedic massage has been found to help with musculoskeletal pain, joint stiffness, and joint immobility. It is also useful for reducing stress and increasing relaxation.
As you can see in the picture above, there are different ways you can apply massage. The picture below describes the different ways-
Here is an article that gives you more insight and knowledge on several types of Massage.
Here is a short video on how a Hot Stone Massage looks like-Design by K P Vasudeva Rao
How to get a Proper and Good Massage
For getting a proper and good massage, one should know whether the massager or masseur, popularly known as Massage Therapist has the knowledge for treating pain in rheumatoid arthritis. These people are trained in such a way that they know which parts of the body should be massaged well and which one should be left out.
Sometimes these masseurs are called Acupressure therapists also. Acupressure is akin to acupuncture. These therapists know which point on the body should get maximum pressure so as to relieve pain in some other remote area of the body.
In India, companies like Urban Clap provide masseurs at a very reasonable rate.
Alternately, you can do self-massage by following these steps-
- Purchase a good heating pad [as described in the previous article].
- Apply heat using this heating pad to the affected joint and muscles surrounding it.
- Use massage oil as shown in the picture. Apply it to the affected joint. [Using massage oil helps lubricate the hand while moving on the joint as well as relieve the pain].
- Using your hands or knuckles, start kneading, stretching the skin above and around the joint gently.
- Gradually increase the pressure on the joint till you feel the joint and muscle relaxing.
A thorough massage should last for at least 10 minutes to have an effect on the affected joint.
How many times a week should you have a massage?
You can give a Myofascial massage three times a week for at least 2 weeks to get relief from discomfort of RA. Another factor is the cost of getting a massage. If it is overtly costly, do it once a week and get self-massage done by using the tools described/shown below.
Are there any handy tools for massage?
Yes, there are many tools available online on Amazon. You can purchase any of these tools/ other ones available by clicking on the image as per your needs and purchasing capacity.
Note- You can get these tools at highly discounted rates and with many other benefits if you have an Amazon Prime membership. Click the country wise links given below to get the Amazon Prime membership-
Alternately, you can go through this article that I have specifically written on these tools.
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Thank you for reading this article. If you have any queries or suggestions on this topic, do reach out to me via the comments section. I will be glad to respond to it promptly.