Many people in society still see the practice of massage therapy as a luxury. Even though there have been multiple studies showing that it is great for a variety of health reasons. Other than assisting in better circulation, elevating mood, and alleviating stress, massage has been proven to ease the pain of arthritis. While there are several medications that can aid in relieving the pain caused by arthritis, many people are starting to try an alternative route.
We all hear people complain about having arthritis but what exactly is it? Arthritis is very common but is not well understood. Actually, “arthritis” is not a single disease; it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than a hundred different types of arthritis. People of all ages, sexes, and races can and do have arthritis (even though it is most common in the elderly), and it is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. More than fifty million adults and three-hundred thousand children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and if you reach the age of eighty-five, you are fifty percent likely to have it.
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the many forms of this disease that most people are familiar with, but it is not as common as most people think. Rheumatoid arthritis (also known as rheumatism or synovitis) is an autoimmune disease affecting one percent of adults worldwide. “ In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the tissue that lines and cushions joints,” says Ray Sahelian, M.D., an internationally-known specialist from Marina Del Rey, Calif. “Eventually the cartilage, bone, and ligaments of the joint erode, causing scars to form within the joint.”But it doesn’t stop at the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the entire body, including organs. Women develop the disease two to three times more frequently than men, and it often first appears between the ages of twenty-five and fifty. Rheumatoid arthritis may raise the risk of early death by as much as forty percent, with heart and respiratory problems the most common contributors to a shortened life span, a new study suggests.
For years, those living with arthritis have sought out pharmaceutical help in dealing with pain and inflammation. But relief from these drugs can come with some nasty side effects. Stomach irritation, peptic ulcers, and increased bleeding are just a few of the side effects of using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, which are the most common pharmaceuticals prescribed for arthritis. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, at least 16,500 deaths are caused each year by the use of these drugs prescribed for arthritis pain relief.
This might be the biggest motivating factor when arthritis sufferers begin seeking out better disease management solutions.
Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate or severe. They may stay about the same for years but may progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes. These changes may be visible, such as knobby/deformed finger joints, but often the damage can only be seen on X-ray. Some types of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys, and skin as well as the joints.
In 2006, researchers from the Yale Prevention Research Center held a 16-week clinical trial involving sixty-four people with arthritis. This trial showed that massage improved flexibility, lessened pain and improved range of motion in the participants. Researcher Adam Perlman, MD says, “Ultimately, massage may be shown to lessen a patient’s reliance on medications and decrease health care costs. Our hope is to show that this treatment is not only safe and effective but cost-effective”
A study led by the Touch Research Institute at the University Of Miami School Of Medicine showed that ongoing massage could lower anxiety, reduce pain, and improve grip strength for those with arthritis. Additionally, a common thread between arthritis sufferers is a lack of deep sleep. Tiffany Field, Ph.D. and director of the Touch Research Institute noted that “When you are deprived of a deep sleep, certain kinds of pain chemicals are released.” With regular massage, therapists can actually help your client get more deep sleep. “It’s this deep sleep that’s truly important because that is where the restorative process is happening,” says Field. This is doubly important, as not only can ongoing massage help you sleep better, but it can also decrease your pain during the day.
As a therapist, there are many modalities of massage that can be used to help clients suffering from this disease. Other than Swedish massage (using mostly petrissage), Lymphatic drainage is a wonderful modality to use because of some people with arthritis experience a lot of excess fluid from the inflammation in their joints. This modality helps to get that fluid moving. You could also use Shiatsu, but this all depends on the type of pain and how much of it the person is experiencing that day. Light stretching of the joints can also alleviate some of the pain.
Other than massage, there are other ways people with arthritis can manage their pain. Make sure that you inform your clients of these, that way you can help them make the most of their time and hopefully, get them out of pain faster, firstly, a diet change. We know there are certain foods that affect us more negatively than others, so it’s not difficult to imagine some of those same foods tipping the balance of the arthritic pain scale. Studies are starting to prove the same and even suggesting that certain lifelong dietary habits may actually reduce the risk of developing arthritis altogether.
Dr. Sahelian says diet can play a large role in pain management. Inflammation, he says, can be curbed to some degree by eating a diet rich in cold-water fish and consuming red meat sparingly. Other recommendations to reduce inflammation include drinking green tea extract, having a daily dose of sour cherries, and enjoying fresh papaya.
The Arthritis Foundation says that while there isn’t a magic diet for arthritis sufferers, there are certain nutritional aspects that can affect the disease. One is maintaining a diet low in saturated fats and/or vegetable oils, as they can increase the inflammatory response. Another is to be aware of any food sensitivities that can trigger symptoms or worsen existing ones.
Recent studies suggest that the overall diet may play a role in whether or not a person will develop arthritis. In southern Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy, where people’s diets are rich in fish, fruits, vegetables, and olive oil, the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis is less severe.24 But scientists warn more research is needed to determine if the link is valid. For those who’ve already found pain relief by eliminating dairy and/or wheat products, cutting back on the fat, or taking refined sugars and processed foods out of their diets altogether, they already know there is a strong partnership between diet and arthritis.
Another thing is for them to stay hydrated. According to Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, author of Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, when we become dehydrated, proteins and enzymes in the body don’t work as effectively as they should. “Rheumatoid joint pain is a direct signal of local water deficiency of the body,”25 he says.
Even though the debate over water intake guidelines for the general population continues, some experts say waiting for a thirst signal before drinking water is a mistake; by then, the body has already suffered at a cellular level. It’s this concern that prompts experts to advise drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
Lastly, and it may sound simple or even silly to some but having a positive attitude. Negativity is a powerful factor in health and well-being. People who are unhappy with their lot in life are often physically miserable as well. Information surrounding the mind-body-spirit triad has shown the powerful healer we all have within us. Arthritis sufferers can benefit from this tremendously as they often feel defeated by their pain and weakening mobility. Accepting the situation arthritis has presented, and being proactive in a positive course of action, can empower those dealing with arthritis and put them back in charge of their health.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital, news release, Nov. 2, 2015
1 The Facts about Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. Available at www.arthritis.org/resources. Accessed February 2005.
3 Sahelian, R. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Available at www.raysahe lian.com/rheumatoidarthritis.html. Accessed February 2005.
6 Wolfe, MM., et al. Gastrointestinal toxicity of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs.The New England Journal of Medicine. 1999; 340 (24): 1888-1899.
7 Alternative Therapies. Arthritis Foundation. Available at www.arthritis.org/conditions/alttherapies/common_therapies.asp. Accessed February 2005.
8 Biotone Pledges $50,000 to Support Touch Research Institute Arthritis Study. Aug. 12, 2004 press release.
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10 Zhao, H. The clinical and experimental research of rheumatoid arthritis treated with Chinese medicine. Samra University of Oriental Medicine. Available at www.samra.edu/ medicine/med3.html. Accessed February 2005.
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oriental_medicine.htm. Accessed February 2005.
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15 Berman, B., et al. Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004 Dec; (141) 12: 901-910.
16 Available at www.holistic-online.com/Remedies/Arthritis/ arth_RA_acupressure.htm. Accessed February 2005.
17 Northwestern Health Sciences University. Available at www.nwhealth.edu/nwtoday/healthnews/arthritis.html. Accessed February 2005.
18 Tai Chi for Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004; (3):CD004849.
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20 Sahelian, R. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Available at www.raysahe lian.com/rheumatoidarthritis.html. Accessed February 2005.
22 Drinking Tart Cherry Juice: Does it really help arthritis pain? Available at www.allaboutarthritis.com/AllAboutArthritis/layout Templates/html/en/contentdisplay/document/condition/arthritis/
clinicalNews/tart_cherry_juice.htm. Accessed February 2005.
23 Martin, R and Romano, K. Preventing and Reversing Arthritis Naturally. Healing Arts Press, (Rochester), 2000, 81.
24 Does diet have a role in the etiology of rheumatoid arthritis? Proc Nutr Soc. 2004 Feb;63(1):137-43.
25 Batmanghelidj, F. How to Deal with Back Pain and Rheumatoid Joint Pain, Global Health Solutions (Falls Church, Va.) 1991, 52.
Irene’s Myomassology Institute is a nationally accredited massage therapy school located in Southfield, Michigan. Scholarships and Financial Aid are available for qualified students to help them pay school tuition. Our students graduate with a state license prepared for a successful career as a massage therapist. Irene’s lifetime job placement services maintain an abundance of massage career opportunities for our alumni. Irene’s student massage clinic provides affordable massage to the public with discounted prices for seniors and veterans. Irene’s massage supply store equips massage therapists with the necessities to manage a successful career.