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Massage Therapy for Osteoarthritis Pain

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Osteoarthritis of the Hands

Osteoarthritis of the Hands

Osteoarthritis Disease

Osteoarthritis, a result of aging, is due to wear and tear on a particular joint, but new studies have proven that massage therapy can successfully relieve pain, improve the function of the joint, and reduce stiffness.

There are 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis. Normal cartilage cushions the bones at the joints, allowing the bones to glide over each other without discomfort. When the cartilage breaks down, the bones rub together. This causes pain, stiffness, and swelling. Sometimes bony spurs will also form, which intensifies the pain as the surrounding ligaments and muscles become weaker.

Osteoarthritis Treatments

Any treatment for osteoarthritis is aimed at preserving joint function, reducing pain, and limiting deformity and disability. Alternative treatments have increased in popularity over the past few years; therefore, patients are using alternative treatments in addition to their conventional medicine.

Massage Therapy for Osteoarthritis

One of the most popular and successful treatments for osteoarthritis is massage therapy. There are actually 80 different types of massage therapy that will help relax and relieve muscular pain.

A typical therapy session lasts 30-60 minutes, and patients with chronic problems typically complete a series of sessions. Massage therapists primarily use their hands, and fingers for the massage, but some also use their forearms, elbows or even their feet to manipulate the muscles and soft tissues. The relaxation of these muscles will also increase the blood flow and oxygen to the massaged areas, which increases warmth to relieve pain.

Arthritic Knees

Arthritic Knees

National Institute of Health Study

A study funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) used 60-minute massage sessions for 125 participants using Swedish massage for osteoarthritic knee pain. The study lasted for eight weeks.

The patients who received the 60-minute treatments had a significant improvement in pain intensity over the group that received the 30-minute massage, although the range of motion was unchanged. This study lasted for 24 weeks.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is a therapy designed to relax the muscles as pressure is applied to the deep muscles and bones. This is achieved by using long, gliding strokes, and rubbing the muscles in the direction of the blood flow that is returning to the heart. This releases toxins from the muscles and increases oxygen in the blood.

Arthritis in Fingers

Arthritis in Fingers

Yale Study on Swedish Massage

Another study completed by the Yale Prevention Research Center in conjunction with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey completed a 16-week study to assess the benefits of Swedish massage on patients with osteoarthritis.

There were two groups. One followed their typical medical treatment, and the other participated in the massages. The treatment consisted of two one-hour Swedish massages per week for four weeks, followed by once a week for four weeks.

The patients that received these massages had significant improvement in pain, stiffness, and functional ability as compared to the group that only had standard medical care. Massage has no side effects and is well tolerated, which makes it an attractive treatment.

Cross Massage

Cross massage is another type of massage used by therapists for patients with osteoarthritis. In addition to increasing blood flow, this type of message also breaks down cross bridges. As the body attempts to repair itself scar tissue is formed in a rather haphazard manner.

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Muscle fibers run parallel to each other so they can slide easily with expansion or contraction in movement. When scar tissue forms, it creates cross-bridges between parallel muscle fibers. This tethers the muscles together, so they cannot slide easily, which shortens the muscle.


  • Flexibility is reduced
  • The muscles become weaker
  • Adjacent muscles work harder to take over so they become inflamed
  • The risk of re-injury increases

The result eventually is an increase in pain, less flexibility, and decreased strength.

It is possible to use self-massage on painful joints by massaging reasonably hard at right angles to the sore muscle fibers. The muscles are pulled apart, which stops the cross bridges from forming so that any scar tissue will form in the direction of the muscle fibers.


The results are from multiple studies that massage therapy is a useful modality for osteoarthritis. Any treatment that lessens pain and reduces stiffness that does not involve taking a medication that possibly has side effects.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 20, 2020:

Hi Peggy,

A massage would always be welcome but not always affordable. I appreciate your comment, Peggy.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 20, 2020:

It would be wonderful to be able to afford regular massages for their therapeutic as well as relaxation benefits.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 20, 2013:

Martie, I am sorry to hear that. I also have a problem where my bones are pressing on a large nerve, which is intensely painful and I get an injection next Tues. morning that I hope will help/

I will check FB and let me lookup massaging hip as I would think it would tak a professional to do it properly. I'll let you know whatever I find out.

Osteoarthritis pain is really tough and it occurs much more as we age, and in more women than men. I will be in touch with you soon. Love and prayers coming your way.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on September 20, 2013:

Dear Pamela, I've just been diagnosed with osteoparthritis of the hip joints - the true cause of the pain and swelling in my legs. (Please check your FB message box for more detail.) Now how do I massage my hips?

This is a most informative hub about osteoarthritis pain. Thank you!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 25, 2012:

Infonolan, It would be interesting to look at the statistics if they are available. I think you might be right about this. Thanks for your comments.

infonolan on October 24, 2012:

Have you ever looked at how common the short pinky finger syndrome is in arthritis. To me it seems like many people with certain forms of arthritis and other autoimmune diseases have the short pinky finger syndrome (i.e. braly's sign). Something to look at for sure!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 22, 2012:

RTolloni, I also like the idea of treatment for diseases that do not involve medicines. Thanks so much for your comments.

RTalloni on October 21, 2012:

We need more treatments that do not prescribe medications! Thanks for this look at "medicinal" massage therapy. It's an interesting read and should be helpful to many. I could rethink my aversion to professional massages if a need like osteoarthritis turned up in my life. I'm glad to know that you are benefiting from this treatment--keep us posted as the therapy progresses.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 03, 2012:

MPG Narratives, I am glad to hear this is working for you. I am just getting started and believe it makes a huge difference. Thanks for stopping by and commenting of my hub.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 03, 2012:

Denise, I wish insurance would pay for massages as they are a bit of an expense. They are definitely worth the cost however. Thank you for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 03, 2012:

teaches, What a wonderful person to have for a friend! :-) I appreciate your comments and the pinning.

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on October 03, 2012:

Thanks Pamela, this is a great article for anyone who suffers from osteoarthritis. I have been using massage therapy for a few months now and I can tell you it is certainly better than taking tablets for easing pain. Voted up and useful.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on October 02, 2012:

What a great hub, Pamela! I enjoyed reading about the different types of massage, but your pictures-wow! They really enhanced the article. I was just looking at my finances, hoping to schedule a massage especially for the upper back, shoulders etc. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait for payday.

Well done-rated up/I/U and sharing.

Dianna Mendez on October 02, 2012:

I have a friend who is a massage therapist and I know first hand how much a good massage can help a body to heal. It is so beneficial to the body in so many ways. Great hub post and well done. Voted up and pinned.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 02, 2012:

learner, I think it will help your friends to try out the massage therapy. I certainly hope so and I appreciate your comments.

healthylife, I love to find natural cures, as I have had side effects several times from medications. I appreciate your comments.

healthylife2 on October 02, 2012:

I hear osteoarthritis is extremely painful and how great that Swedish message helps to alleviate the pain. It's nice to see something helpful that isn't a medication with no adverse effects. Sharing this since many suffer from osteoarthritis.

Saadia A on October 02, 2012:

This is very useful information and many people can benefit well from your Hub. I know some people who unfortunately suffer from the pain. I will share your article with them also.

Thank you for sharing.Voted up and useful !!!!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 02, 2012:

Mzl, I'm glad you found this hub useful. Thanks for your comments.

Life Under Construction from Neverland on October 02, 2012:

Pam, thank you for sharing these very informative article about Osteoarthritis pain. its good to be aware of these kind od condition.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 01, 2012:

Patti, The power of suggestion must be working in your life! I hope it is better now.

breakfastpop on October 01, 2012:

You won't believe this, but after I wrote my reply I went upstairs and my knee was killing me!!!!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 01, 2012:

Patti, With a bit of luck maybe you won't get arthritis. Thanks for your comments.

breakfastpop on October 01, 2012:

Very interesting article. Actually, this is the one thing I don't have so far, but when my knee starts hurting I'll know what to do!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 30, 2012:

Ruby, I would prefer privacy also, but would probably still get at least a shoulder massage if possible. They feel so good. Thank you for your comments.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on September 30, 2012:

Interesting hub. I would love to have massage therapy. I was in a large mall not long ago and two people were giving massages. They were using a light weight bench. I think i prefer a room with a closed door. lol

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 30, 2012:

kasshmir, I am glad you found the hub to be informative and I appreciate your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 30, 2012:

Joseph, I agree as it is always better to choose something that is natural over a medication. Thanks so much for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 30, 2012:

drbj, I think people with osteoarthritis will be surprised at how helpful massage therapy can be to relieve their pain. I'm glad you liked the graphics and I appreciate your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 30, 2012:

Audry, I have had success with physical therapy and massage also. Swimming is a good idea too. Thanks for your comments.

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on September 30, 2012:

Great and very informative hub to help anyone who suffers with this type of pain do to them having Osteoarthritis Disease . Thanks for sharing this helpful and useful information !

Vote up and more !!!

Joseph De Cross from New York on September 30, 2012:

Very Good! Medication is prone to secondary effects and that can harm the whole system in the long run. Massage therapy for Osteoarthritis disease has been on the vanguard of joiny aching. We as baby boomers are on the look for these kind of therapies. Great research and well written!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 30, 2012:

Those who suffer from the pain of osteoarthritis will be happy to learn that massage therapy may relieve their symptoms. You have therefore, dear Pamela, performed a public service by researching and publishing this needed information. The graphics you selected are also excellent. Voted Up.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on September 30, 2012:

Hi Pamela--massage is actually the only thing that has ever helped me--plus swimming or physical therapy when I get flareups of muscle issues. I would recommend massage therapy to anyone suffering from joint pain or muscle pain---it is the ult!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 29, 2012:

Paula, It is nice to hear from someone that is using massages as a therapeutic treatment. I appreciate your comments.

Suzie from Carson City on September 29, 2012:

Pamela...wonderful hub. Very important info. Honestly, Pam, I don't know how I would deal with the aches, pains and stiffness if not for massage. It's a life-saver in so many ways. Thank you for sharing this valuable education. ...UP++

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 29, 2012:

alphagirl, I think you summed up my hub perfectly! I appreciate your comments.

Mae Williams from USA on September 29, 2012:

I love getting massages. It releases the toxins that build up and loosens the nerves that get strangled by those stiff joints and muscles.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 29, 2012:

Marcy, I was so happy to find that they have clinically proven the benefits of massage for people with arthritis, as we all know massages feel good anyway. Thanks so much for your comments.

Faith, I had to have one of those when I injured my back, and yes it did hurt a little bit. However, it completely healed me. I would think with arthritis that they would have to be more gentle considering the nature of the disease. I appreciate your comments.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on September 29, 2012:


You have written one very insightful, well-research and well-written hub here dear one. I had to have "deep tissue massages," and what was funny about it, was in my mind, I was thinking of those relaxing types of massages (never had one of those) as is depicted on the cruise ships or whatever. So, when I arrived for the "deep tissue massage," boy was I in for a surprise, as they do dig their thumbs and fingers deep into different points on your body, i.e., in my case, my neck and back. I will be honest it hurt a little. But the next few days, I felt much relief! I guess, "no pain, no gain." Voted Up In His Love, Faith Reaper

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on September 29, 2012:

This is such a useful article! I know so many people who suffer with this type of pain, and I've always heard massage helps arthritis. I will remember this so I can refer people to it!

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