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There are several different treatment methods for patients with arthritis. In additional to conventional treatment, many patients can choose to add massages to their treatment regimen. This article outlines 10 different types of massages for arthritis.

Patients with arthritis, a condition characterized by joint inflammation, are generally treated using medication, exercise and, in some cases, surgery. However, there are other, non-conventional treatment methods that can be added to standard treatment. One of these treatment types is massage.

Massage is a broad term that can be broken down into many different subtypes. Essentially, it refers to manipulation of the body’s skin, muscles and connective tissues using the hands. Massages can be beneficial in alleviating many of the symptoms associated with arthritis such as pain, stiffness and swelling. Additionally, it can help ease anxiety and improve flexibility and range of motion of joints. However, it is mainly used to relieve pain as experts say that massages can lead to a significant reduction in pain for people with all subtypes of the disease.

It is important for massage therapists, whether they be a licensed professional or you're performing massage on yourself, to use moderate pressure as it helps stimulate the pressure receptors in your skin to release chemicals that can help relieve pain. However, light pressure is not beneficial in that manner. For patients with arthritis that have chronic pain, massage therapy can be used regularly. It can also help improve sleep and relieve muscle aches.

Patients with arthritis can try a range of different massage techniques. The different types of massages are so varied as they originate from vastly different cultures and have emerged over the course of many centuries. While some types of massages only involve the use of hands and massage oils, others can involve using different objects that are hot or cold. Here are the different types of massages that patients with arthritis can benefit from.

1. Swedish massage

This is the classical and most common type of massage that most people will have experienced. A Swedish massage involves the following:

  • Use of long and fluid strokes of the muscles and tissue with or without the addition or a massage oil or lotion
  • Five basic strokes called the effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction and vibration
  • Reduction in soreness and stiffness of the joints
  • Reduction in anxiety
  • Improvement in circulation

2. Deep tissue massage

This type of massage involves the manipulation of the top and deeper layers of the muscles and tissue. It is conducted by using intense and focused pressure. It helps relieve significant tension or pain in the muscles and connective tissues. Deep tissue massage can cause some soreness afterwards and therefore, may not be appropriate for all patients with arthritis.

3. Hot stone massage

This is a type of massage therapy that is offered in spas. In a hot stone massage, a therapist will put smooth heated stones on your back when you are on your stomach. These hot stones will then send heat to the muscles and tissues, which release tension and induces relaxation. In addition to the placement of these stones, the therapist will also massage your muscles using their hand. Some forms of the massage also involve cold stones which are particularly helpful for muscles that are sore due to physical exercise or injuries. Finally, some therapists will use both hot and cold stones for healing.

4. Ayurvedic massage

This is a type of massage that originated from India and blends together yoga, massage, and meditation. It usually consists of a full-body massage as well as the use of different aromatic oils for spiritual healing.

5. Anma

Another Asia-inspired massage technique, Anma involves massaging the muscles and soft tissue without use of oils. It is based on the theory that illness and pain are caused by a blockage in energy from one region to another. Thus, massaging muscles can restore the energy and heal the body.

6. Thai massage

As suggested by the name, Thai massage originated from Thailand. In a Thai massage, the body is placed in yoga-like positions. However, the practice varies from practitioner to practitioner. While some Thai massages involve flexible stretching, other just focus on applying pressure.

7. Lomi Lomi

This is a massage type that developed in Hawaii and is a considered a healing practice that involves the use of diet, prayer, meditation and massaging the muscles and tissue.

8. Myofascial Release

A myofascial release involves massaging and manipulation of the fascia — the connective tissue around your muscles, nerves, and blood vessels — by gently rolling the skin in different parts of the body. Its goal is to help relieve pain.

9. Reflexology

Another Asian massage technique, reflexology is based on the belief that adding pressure to specific regions of the hands and feet will allow other regions of the body connected to those specific regions to heal. While studies have not shown a correlation between healing and reflexology, it is can help reduce stress, anxiety and pain.

10. Self-massage

Self-massage refers to massaging your own joints, pressure points or muscles. You can buy certain massage tools that are heated or vibrate, thus allowing you to massage yourself. While it can be hard to massage regions out of your reach, it works well for knees, feet, hands, neck and arms.

Other massage types

There are lots of other massage types including rolfing, shiatsu, and trigger point massage. It is best to consult a doctor if you are unsure of what type of massage would suit you best. You can also discuss your condition with a massage therapist to determine the best type of massage for you.

  • Field, Tiffany, et al. "Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis: benefits from massage theraphy." Journal of pediatric Psychology 22.5 (1997): 607-617.
  • Field, Tiffany, et al. "Hand arthritis pain is reduced by massage therapy." Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 11.1 (2007): 21-24
  • Field, Tiffany, et al. "Rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy." Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 19.2 (2013): 101-103
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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