Osteoarthritis of the knee is the world’s most common form of joint pain. It’s no wonder, because as each decade folds into the next, your knees are taking the brunt of the pressure and abuse your body imposes on them. A plethora of treatments — both natural and conventional — exist for osteoarthritis, but one just got a nice lift from a study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
Researchers found that Swedish massage could reduce the pain and stiffness of this chronic form of arthritis. Though the moniker “Swedish” sounds fancy, this is actually just the term for your typical massage, often done with the help of oil, during which the masseuse uses long, flowing strokes to boost circulation and blood flow.
The participants didn’t even receive an extensive amount of massage for it to be effective. They enjoyed two, one-hour massages in one month, followed by four, one-hour massages in the next month. The researchers, who hail from the Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in New Jersey, call the results “impressive.” Compared to patients receiving “usual care,” those taking the massage had far less pain, greater flexibility, and greater range of motion at the end of just eight weeks.
That’s a short period of time for the biggest cause of joint pain that stays with you for years and years on end. And the benefits of massage remained well after the hands-on treatments had ceased. For those getting usual care — which basically involved a round of painkillers and some knee exercises — eight weeks of therapy produced no change in their symptoms. But for two more months following, these osteoarthritis patients switched to massage and saw the same benefits that their peers had experienced earlier.
When groups switch in a study, and both end up seeing success with the tested therapy, then that is always a very good sign it is effective. In fact, many of the participants were so happy with their improved knee that they continued receiving Swedish massage each month on their own. When the researchers followed up with the participants, they learned that the benefits continued.
Although massage is a popular alternative therapy, especially for people who suffer from a condition that causes chronic pain, this represents the first study that examined massage specifically for knee osteoarthritis (suffered by tens of millions of North Americans). Swedish massage is now proven effective and most therapists are trained in it, so anyone can find it virtually anywhere. While it doesn’t replace treatment for arthritis, it is an excellent add-on therapy to one’s overall care.
And it feels pretty nice, too.