Consider recommending massage to your clients with knee arthritis for an effective, integrative approach to reducing pain and improving function. In a small, randomized study of 68 adults with osteoarthritis of the knee, researchers at the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, found that subjects who received regular hourlong massage therapy treatments had improved flexibility and range of motion and less pain within 8 weeks of beginning treatment. Numerous studies have shown that massage relieves chronic low-back pain and musculoskeletal disorders, but no prior research has focused on whether massage could help arthritis sufferers.

“The very significant therapeutic response over 8 weeks of therapy persisted 8 weeks later. Two months after the last massage, [the subjects] were still significantly better than baseline and significantly better than the control group. That exceeded our expectations,” David Katz, MD, senior study author, associate adjunct professor of public health at Yale and director of the Prevention Research Center, told HealthDay news.

Researchers suggest two possible explanations for the positive outcome. “Sensory input [from the massage] competes with pain input in the spinal cord, travels faster and blocks pain symptoms,” said Katz. Massage also
has a more significant long-term healing effect by increasing circulation. Improved circulation “brings an influx of cells to clean out the debris and facilitates, to whatever extent possible, bone and cartilage remodeling.”

Massage is an attractive option since it does not carry risks of adverse side effects, such as those associated with pharmaceutical drugs; it may also be less expensive. The study appeared in Archives of Internal Medicine (2006; 166, 2533–38).