According to the Arthritis Society, over 4.6 million Canadians report having arthritis. And by 2036, this number is expected to grow to an estimated 7.5 million adults across the country.
In British Columbia, arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability. The impact on productivity and overall quality of life is huge. Not only do sufferers of the disease live with chronic pain, they are often forced to reduce their work hours or withdraw from the workforce altogether. The situation is reaching critical mass as baby boomers age and we’re even harder pressed to find effective arthritis treatments that can keep our labour force strong and thriving.
Because arthritis patients seek frequent medical care, including pharmaceutical management and surgery, BC is anxious to explore alternative avenues of treatment – in particular, physical modalities like massage therapy that focus on rehabilitation.
Increasingly, registered massage therapists are stepping in to fill a gap in arthritis care, using specialized techniques to address pain and immobility.
Osteoarthritis occurs when wear and tear causes the cartilage between joints to break down. Pain and stiffness are chronic with this condition. Massage therapy, performed on carefully assessed patients and with specific approaches, has been found to help ease stiffness by relaxing the muscles around the joint. Additional benefits include:
• Decreased pain and increased mobility
• Increased blood flow to areas of arthritis, bringing oxygen to help healing
• Flushing out of toxic inflammatory substances that add to pain and swelling
• Increased relaxation, decreased stress, and a sense of well-being
RMT Valerie Voner – who’s been practicing for over 30 years – recommends avoiding deep tissue treatment when osteoarthritis is acute and there is redness or swelling. To decrease pain and inflammation, she recommends instead the following techniques, which are foundational to massage therapy training programs:
• Trigger point work to antagonist muscle groups
• Manual Lympatic Drainage
Again, moderate pressure massage therapy has found very effective applications in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis – one of the most common types of the disease. A study published in the May 2013 edition of Complementary Therapy in Clinical Practice revealed that rheumatoid arthritis patients who received massage treatment felt relief from pain and stiffness – they also reported having a stronger grip and increased range of motion.
To replicate the results of the study, RMTs should assess their patients’ comfort level and apply correspondingly moderate pressure that is firm, but not so deep as to cause pain.
Well known as an ancient inflammatory affliction that typically targets men over women, gout is characterized by redness, swelling, and extreme pain around the joint of the big toe – although gout can affect other joints as well. A good massage therapy college will always emphasize the importance of differentiating techniques by the specifics of disease - although gout is classified as a kind of arthritis, most traditional massage techniques are not recommended for patients with this condition.
An acute attack of gout is considered a systemic inflammation, so localized massage makes little sense and can actually make matters worse by irritating the inflamed area. Instead, energetic or distal massage techniques could be more beneficial, especially lymphatic drainage massage. Two important points to keep in mind when treating patients with gout:
• Never apply ice to the affected area(s): cold precipitates production of uric acid, which can make inflammation worse
• Gout often increases risk of kidney stones and other urinary system disorders: check with the physician before administering a circulatory massage
Which treatment have you found to be most beneficial in the treatment of arthritis?