I often hear many people complain about achy joints, especially hips, knees, hands and wrists. These conditions are especially problematic as they can deter normal activities affecting our work and play. Some joint issues may fall under the category of regional affectations, whereby some activity was undertaken and swelling, inflammation, and achiness became temporary. Or the condition might fall under the category of degenerative joint disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, whereby irritation, inflammation, and general deterioration have been long term with no improvement.
Many of our joints are weight bearing and most are confronted with repetitive motions from work or sports activities. The tough and tender components of our joints are bathed in fluids to keep them moving freely and to keep nutrition flowing to the cells. Several factors can lead to the breakdown of these internal joint structures, such as inadequate dietary nutrition, overwork, overstress, excess weight, especially on hips, knees, and ankles, strained musculature pulling on tendon and ligament attachments or even lax musculature that puts a strain on surrounding structures creating imbalance and misalignment. Ruth Werner in her textbook, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, third edition, informs us that hormone deficiencies, dehydration, allergic reactions creating inflammation that often settles in joint capsules, or improper metabolic absorption, as well, can all lead to compromises in joint capsules. (p.111)
Massage therapy can be highly effective for alleviating the pain and swelling of arthritic conditions. The warmth, touch, and gentle movements become a welcome nurturance to areas plagued by chronic pain. It is important to note, however, for therapists as well as patients, that arthritic conditions have subacute and acute stages, and massage may not be helpful during the acute stage, also referred to as the flare-up stage, as it is too painful oftentimes to touch or manipulate. When a patient is in the subacute stage, a state that may be uncomfortable, but not inflamed, massage can be helpful in alleviating any strained, cramped, or spasmed musculature creating pressure on the joint capsules. Gentle manipulation working inner structures may begin to improve normal ranges of motion and may be helpful in restoring synovial joint fluids and creating spaces for nutrients to enter especially if one is taking nutritional supplements assisting joint repair. This may reduce stiffness and lower pain sensations.
For both the client with arthritis and the massage therapist treating the client, it is important to work with the health care team to determine any other associated underlying medical conditions that might exist.
by Krystle Shapiro