When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may have avoided massage as part of your treatment plan because you are concerned about increasing pain. Before you disregard massage as helpful for RA, consider the many benefits from including this non-medication approach into your current management plan.
Improved Lymph Circulation
Morning stiffness and "gelling" are hallmarks of RA, and this symptom often differentiates RA from non-inflammatory forms of arthritis. "Gelling" refers to stiffening of joints after small periods of rest. Having regular massages can help lymph drain from inflamed areas more efficiently, thereby reducing stiffness. Even when you are not on the massage table, simply rubbing inflamed joints upon awakening or after resting may help reduce stiffness and restore joint motion quicker.
Loosening Tight Muscles
Although your primary concern is joint pain, inflammation, and damage, the muscles and other supporting structures surrounding your joints are important for facilitating joint movement and providing joint stability. Massage is one method of relaxing tight muscles and helping avoid unnecessary stress on ligaments and tendons, which are often fragile with chronic inflammatory diseases. Since massage is associated with stress reduction, due to decreases in stress hormones, you might notice improvements in pain purely from feeling less anxious or stressed. High levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are also attributed to higher levels of pain. Anything you can do to reduce cortisol is beneficial for RA and your overall health.
Increased Range Of Motion
The combination of reduced stiffness and fewer tight muscles can also improve your range of motion (ROM). Unfortunately, reduced ROM is common in RA, especially with moderate to severe disease activity and joint damage. Although you cannot entirely prevent decreased ROM, part of your efforts at slowing changes in your joints should include massage therapy, in addition to other non-medication treatments, such as physical therapy.
Before integrating massage, discuss the many types of massage therapy available. Some may include heated stones or other forms of heat therapy, which can offer additional pain relief benefits. Since the goal of including massage is to decrease pain, make sure you and your massage therapist discuss your needs before each session. If you have an actively flaring joint or otherwise find massage in a specific area of your body is painful, ask them to skip the painful area.
Massage therapy is one of several non-medication therapies you should consider for management of RA. With regular massage sessions, you may notice a reduction in pain and overall improvement of joint mobility.
For more information and options, talk with a massage therapist, such as those at Gulf Coast Massage & Skin Care.