Looking at Osteoarthritis and massage

Osteoarthritis has made an appearance in my life over the last few weeks through treating those that suffer from it and also attending a very informative seminar on musculoskeletal health run by the supplement company ‘Lamberts’. I’ve not blogged for a while so when thinking about what to talk about, this seemed important to me as I have come across a worrying number of sufferers of osteoarthritis who seek massage to help the pain generated by this condition. According to www.arthritiscare.org.uk, there are 200 types of arthritis affecting the musculoskeletal systems which can be divided into three types:

  • Inflammatory arthritis – rheumatoid, ankylosing spondylitis, gout
  • Non- inflammatory arthritis – osteoarthritis
  • Connective tissue disease – lupus, Sjoren’s syndrome

First of all, what is arthritis? The term ‘arthritis’ is an umbrella term which means inflammation of the joints. Many people suffer from it at some point in their lives but  often do not know or get confused about which type they have once it’s been diagnosed. I’m focusing this article on osteoarthritis because it’s probably the most common type.

What causes it? Can be caused by the degeneration of the hyaline cartilage covering the ends of bones in our joints. This cartilage is important for shock absorption, allowing the joint to move freely and lubricate the joint. When this cartilage gets worn away, the joint becomes inflamed, stiff and painful.  It can also be caused by a trauma to a joint. It’s associated with increase of age but not age related. Osteoarthritis has even been found in fossilised dinosaur bones showing arthritic changes proving it to be an ancient condition affecting all animals.

Who suffers from osteoarthritis? – According to www.arthritisresearchuk.org, in the UK, 8.75 million people have sought treatment for osteoarthritis. These statistics break down as follows:

  • 33% of people aged 45 years and over sought treatment for osteoarthritis
  • 49% of women and 42% of men of those aged 75 years and over suffer with this condition.

Women are more likely than men to have sought treatment. The knee is the most common site in the body for osteoarthritis, followed by the hip. It’s common to have it in more than one joint. Other joints it’s commonly found are knuckles of the hand and intervertebral discs and facet joints of the spine.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis? – the early stages of this condition is cartilage degeneration is usually painless. Eventually pain follows extensive joint use which is relieved by rest and the pain is local to the affected joint. Usually in the morning, stiffness in the joint is felt until movement frees up the affected joint. In the later stages of this condition, the cartilage may have worn away and bone is rubbing on bone within the joint causing severe pain, restricted movement and increased pain on moderate movement. Acute inflammation and muscle spasms may also occur.

How can massage help? – the goal would be to reduce stiffness, pain, muscle spasms and increase range of movement. You can be positioned into any position that feels comfortable for you on the couch and I would possibly move my client around so as not to get too stiff in one position. I would use different techniques to relax muscles, use gentle stretches and movement into the joints if not too painful. I find the use of myofascial release techniques working on the connective tissue surrounding muscles quite effective because it’s slow and controlled and gently ‘stretches’ the tissues freeing up the surrounding muscles of the affected joints.

Self-care – heat can help chronic osteoarthritic  joints and cold can help with acute flare ups. During flare ups, rest from activities that aggravate the joint but maintaining gentle movement during relaxation would be helpful. Pain free gentle stretching can help affected joints as well as non-weight bearing activities such as swimming help with cardiovascular health. Once diagnosed with osteoarthritis it would be good to speak to your GP to get advice as to what exercise is acceptable that won’t aggravate your condition. It might help to see a nutritionist as there are certain food groups such as the nightshade family (white potatoes, peppers, aubergine and tomatoes) that have been found to be inflammatory and avoiding these foods can help reduce flare ups of the condition. There are food supplements known to help reduce inflammation and repair cartilage and bone but these are best taken under the guidance of a nutritionist.

Do let me know if you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and have found a way of keeping your pain and stiffness at a manageable level. I have it in my knees and toes and I find that exercising regularly and supplementing my diet with omega 3 krill oil as well as doing a weekly pilates class has meant I can maintain an active and relatively pain free life.

Sources – Rattray. F, Ludwig. L Clinical Massage Therapy, Published 2000


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