Arthritis means inflammation of a joint or joints. Inflamed joints are often red, hot, swollen, and tender. There are more than 100 arthritic conditions that affect the joints or tissues around the joint and specific symptoms vary depending on the type of arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recognizes massage on a regular basis as a proven treatment for symptoms of arthritis. Though research on massage is scarce, two recent studies sited by the Arthritis Foundation confirm the benefit.
A study conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey examined 68 adults with knee osteoarthritis receiving two Swedish massages per week for eight weeks, compared to a group who received no massage. The massage group reported significant improvements in knee pain, stiffness, function, range of motion and walking, the researchers found.
Symptoms may include:
Potential causes for arthritis may include:
Depending on the type of arthritis, massage is varied in its effectiveness. Osteoarthritis is the condition I most commonly work with. Over time, restriction in joints, muscles and fascia can create suboptimal alignment. that misalignment leads to greater friction in the joint, including possibly one part of the joint taking too much of the load. If we can align or free up the joint to move within normal range of motion, then friction and damage is reduced. Some of the damage may be irreversible and if it's too far along, surgery may be called for. I help prevent surgeries in this way.
Many people greatly underestimate this value of bodywork. Imagine your car parts are misaligned and you just let it slide. Down the road due to parts creating more friction rubbing against each other over and over in ways they shouldn't, you will have expensive repairs and break downs. This is your body and you've only got one. Surgery to resurface joints and joint replacements usually don't get you back to full function because it's a fake joint and you've had surgery which creates scar tissue. There is also recovery time, cost, and risks involved, especially as you age.
The other types of arthritis (systemic disease) also benefits from massage in a different way. Massage can reduce swelling and inflammation temporarily. Joint mobilization and stretching can keep the joint lubricated and from becoming progressively more restricted. Finally, massage helps with pain, but of course the effect is going to be temporary with chronic, system arthritis disease. In these cases, mild to moderate massage is called for, otherwise it may produce a flare.
In a recent podcast on The Art of Manliness, guest Dr. Belisa Vranich explains her theory of breathing and a modern culture epidemic of bad breathing, mainly caused by excessive sitting in chairs. She warns of the consequences and provides detailed instructions on how to breathe in a way that increases oxygenation and lowers physiological stress activation via the Vagus Nerve.
In my practice, I frequently see upper chest, neck and shoulder breathers which drastically increases tension in these areas and limits breathing capacity where its most effective. Aside from addressing this pathological pattern that 9/10 people in the US have, she challenges popular myths we have been taught about breathing.
Among her suggestions for better breathing are:
Listen to the podcast here.
Excerpt "6,000-Year-Old Knee Joints Suggest Osteoarthritis Isn't Just Wear And Tear"
From NPR, August 15, 2017:
"So, going into it, I suppose my expectation was that people in the past, especially early hunter-gatherers and early farmers, would have had a much higher prevalence of osteoarthritis than people do today," Wallace says. Surely all that running around, squatting, twisting and other activity in the days before cars and couches would have worn out joints quickly.
But that's not what the evidence showed.
"I was actually extremely surprised to find that [osteoarthritis] is much more common today" than it was in Americans long ago, says Wallace.
That higher rate held true even after scientists corrected for body mass and age. So there's apparently something else driving the increase in knee arthritis. The current study doesn't pinpoint that cause.
"If I were a betting man, I would guess physical activity is especially important," Lieberman says. "One of the things that's really shifted in our world today is that we sit all the time, and kids sit all the time. And that may be affecting how our joints are forming and how our joints are aging."
This makes sense to Dr. Richard Loeser a rheumatologist who directs the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
"Your joints aren't just like your automobile tires that wear out as you use them," he says. In fact, exercise helps nutrients diffuse into cartilage in the knee and keep it strong and healthy.
If cartilage "is formed and more healthy when you're younger, then your joints are more likely to be functioning better and have less osteoarthritis when you get older," Loeser says. And exercise also helps fully grown people.
"By strengthening your muscles and by stimulating your cartilage you can still improve the health of your joint," Loeser says.