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How Helpful is Massage to the Growing Epidemic of Arthritis Sufferers?

By Jacqueline / January 10th, 2017

Arthritis is a leading cause of disability and I find statistics of those affected worldwide, and in the U.S., very startling. Approximately 350 million people worldwide have arthritis. Nearly 53 million people in the United States are affected by arthritis, including over 300,000 children! More than 30 million Americans have osteoarthritis and approximately 1.3 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Almost two-thirds of US adults with arthritis are of working age 18-64 years, according to the CDC. Unbelievable!

Arthritis is a condition that causes painful inflammation, stiffness of the joints, and changes in bone structure. The most common forms of arthritis are gouty arthritis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, with the latter being the most intense.

Rheumatoid arthritis is defined as a “chronic, systemic, autoimmune inflammatory disease” (Beck). Its cause it unknown, but symptoms include inflamed joints which causes the smooth, white tissue covering the end of bones where joints are formed, also known as articular cartilage, to erode. The joints begin to calcify and eventually become immovable resulting in stiffness. It’s found that “60% of people with inadequately treated RA are unable to work 10 years after onset” (Vandever). Massage is contraindicated or inadvisable in the acute o
r active stage because it can irritate the condition. However, gentle massage well within the clients’ pain tolerance can be beneficial in the remission stage when symptoms reside.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the synovial joints, joints which allow for movements, wears down. The knees, hips, hands, and spine are common areas affected by this chronic disease and usually accompanies aging, obesity, and injury. Massage is contraindicated during the acute stage, but it is indicated (advisable) in the subacute stages when the body starts repairing the damage to help relax “muscle tension, reduce pain, and maintain flexibility” (Beck).

Gouty arthritis or gout, is the result of high concentrations of uric acid in the body. Uric acid is a chemical the body creates when it breaks down substances called purines. High amounts of purines can be found in foods such as organ meat like liver and kidneys, as well as pork, beef, lamb, anchovies, mackerel, scallops, and even beer, according to WebMD. Most uric acid dissolves in blood, and travel to the kidneys, and from there passes outside the body via urine.

Too much in the body, however, can be dangerous resulting in uric acid crystals which can cause kidney stones, as well as sharp uric acid crystal deposits in joints, often in the big toe but also heels, knees, ankles, wrists, fingers, elbows, and insteps. It can also cause deposits of uric acid (called tophi) that looks like lumps under the skin.

A client with symptoms of gout should get medical clearance from the doctor before getting a massage. In the acute stage, gout is a systemic contraindication which means massage should be completely avoided. However, in the subacute or remission stage, it is a local contraindication meaning massage can be performed while avoiding the affected area until healed.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, “one 2006 study conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey examined 68 adults with knee osteoarthritis receiving two Swedish massages per week for eight weeks, compared to a group who received no massage. The massage group reported significant improvements in knee pain, stiffness, function, range of motion and walking, the researchers found” (Bernstein). Regular massages help strengthen the muscles and tissues around the affected areas, and can help arthritis sufferers cope with pain and stiffness, improve sleep, and lessen the severity of the condition overall. However, it is also important to consult your doctor prior to treatment.



Beck, Mark F. Theory & Practice of Therapeutic Massage. Fifth ed. Clifton Park: Cengage Learning (Milady), 2011. Print.

Bernstein, Susan. “Benefits of Massage.” Arthritis Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.

“Arthritis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., 02 Nov. 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.

“Diet and Gout: Purines in Food – What to Eat and What to Avoid.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Vandever, Leslie, and George T. Krucik. “Rheumatoid Arthritis by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You.” Healthline. Healthline Media, 10 June 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.

“What Is Gout?” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. N.p., Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.


  1. Well, since i’m still young, and won’t expect arthritis anytime soon (and also being a gym and health fanatic), I should recommend this article to my dad so that he may consider going to a massage place because he’s been developing arthritis for the past 5 years now and I will do anything that can remedy his pain outside the doctor. Massages might do the trick which I hope does something to my dad who deserves nothing but comfort.

    1. Hi Nico! Yes regular massages with oils/creams containing frankincense, peppermint, eucalyptus, ginger, lavender or myrrh essential oils, or a proper blend of some of these oils, can definitely help your dad. If he’s on any type of medication, however, his healthcare practitioner should be consulted since some essential oils can interact with certain drugs.
      All the best.

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