Massage Therapy Helps Relieve Pain for Osteoarthritis

Relax and Find Relief with Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is an alternative treatment used to relieve pain. There are more than 80 types of massage therapy, in which healthcare providers manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues using varied techniques.

Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage between your joints wears away, causing pain and stiffness. Trained therapists can help relieve osteoarthritis joint pain by relaxing the surrounding muscles and other soft tissues and releasing stiffness.

If you are interested in exploring massage therapy as a possible treatment for osteoarthritis, discuss your plans with your healthcare provider.

Woman receiving physical therapy
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About Massage Therapy

Massage therapists mostly use their hands and fingers—although some therapists also use their forearms, elbows, or even their feet—to manipulate the patient's soft tissues. Soft tissues are those that support and surround body structures and include muscle, fat, tendons, and ligaments. The amount of pressure used and the direction of movement differ among therapists and the area being massaged.

The goal of massage therapy is to relax muscles and other soft tissues, increase the blood and oxygen being delivered to the massaged area, warm the affected area, and relieve pain.

Some of the best-known types of massage include:

  • Swedish massage: The therapist focuses on using long strokes, kneading, and friction on the muscles. Joints are moved to promote flexibility.
  • Deep tissue massage: The therapist uses deep finger pressure, focusing on muscles that are tight or knotted.
  • Trigger point massage: The therapist focuses pressure on trigger points in myofascial tissue (the tough membranes that wrap, connect, and support muscles) and uses other strokes as well. Trigger points represent a source of radiating pain.
  • Shiatsu massage: The therapist applies rhythmic pressure with their fingers to body parts linked to vital energy, called qi.

A massage therapy session usually lasts 30–60 minutes, though some sessions may be shorter or longer. Chronic pain patients often are advised to complete a series of sessions.

Depending on the location of the muscles being massaged, you may either be seated for a chair massage or you may be asked to lie on a padded table. Typically, oil or powder is used to allow the therapists' hands to glide over your skin.

Risks Regarding Massage Therapy

Certain precautions must be taken before getting massage therapy. Though there are few serious risks, there are certain individuals who should not get massage therapy.

People with the following conditions are not suitable candidates for massage therapy:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot)
  • Bleeding disorders or those taking a blood thinner
  • Damaged blood vessels
  • Osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones)
  • Recent fractures (broken bones)
  • Cancer
  • Fever
  • Open wounds
  • Tumors
  • Damaged nerves
  • Infection and inflammation in the area to be massaged

Additionally, anyone with recent surgery should not get a massage. If you have a skin condition (either contagious, like warts or herpes or noncontagious, like psoriasis) that could be aggravated by touch or pressure, massage is not recommended for you.

If you are pregnant, have cancer, have fragile skin, heart problems, dermatomyositis (a rare disease causing muscle inflammation and a rash), or a history of physical abuse, discuss massage therapy with your healthcare provider before signing up.

A Word From Verywell

Researchers are still studying the effects of massage therapy on health conditions. It is clear, though, that massage therapy promotes relaxation while reducing stress, which can help with chronic joint issues like osteoarthritis.

Due to the popularity of massage therapy, it is important that you check out the credentials of your massage therapist. Physical therapists also are trained in massage therapy. Know your therapist! Ask questions that will ensure your safety.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ergonomic Trends. 20 most common types of massages and their benefits explained.

  2. Perlman A, Fogerite SG, Glass O, et al. Efficacy and safety of massage for osteoarthritis of the knee: A randomized clinical trialJ GEN INTERN MED. 2019;34(3):379-386. doi:10.1007/s11606-018-4763-5

  3. Medical Massage Therapy Resource & Reference. When not to get a massage: 26 reasons you cannot get a massage.

Additional Reading
  • Walton T. Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy: A Decision Tree Approach. First edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2020.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."