Table Talk #9 How to Knead the Knee: Is Massage for Knee Osteoarthritis Worth it?

Aran Bright CPE Continuing Professional Education 1 Comment

Knee osteoarthritis is a common problem and one that is associated with high levels of mobility issues and disability. Thankfully, it appears that massage can be a source of helpful short term relief for sufferers of knee osteoarthritis. A very well designed study looked at using massage for knee osteoarthritis across eight weeks of treatment, with progress monitored across a 12 month period. It compared three groups: “light touch,” “moderate pressure massage” (Swedish) and “usual care” (wait and see) to find the results.

Results of massage therapy

What was found, is that the groups that used Swedish massage had quite considerable improvement in pain and function, compared to the light touch and usual care groups. This study was unique in that it mixed light touch, moderate massage and usual care amongst participants, so that some participants received regular massage right across the 12 months, where others received only eight weeks of massage (once a week for 60 minutes) and then usual care ongoing.

Interestingly, what was shown is that the eight weeks of regular Swedish massage had quite durable effects right across the 12 month period, even compared to the participants that continued to get massage for 12 months.

What does this mean?

If we take this study on face value, it would seem that a very valid and safe approach to relieving the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis is receiving eight weeks of regular massage treatment. After that, regular massage may provide some ongoing relief, but it doesn’t appear to be superior to the normal advice of staying active and leading a healthy lifestyle.

This study highlights a few key points:

  • Massage for pain is non-specific, meaning general Swedish massage is quite effective for pain.
  • Massage is like analgesia, nothing is being “fixed’ or “corrected” it is a method to reduce the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain, just like panadol.
  • There is potentially some real value for long term disability and therefore healthcare costs, by receiving an 8 week period of weekly 1-hour massages.
  • After an intensive dose of massage, more massage treatment has minimal effects, so healthy lifestyle now becomes paramount.

Take home message – how to “knead the knee”

So, if you are working with clients with knee osteoarthritis, be confident that you don’t need too many special techniques beyond your fundamental Swedish massage skills to achieve real results for most people. Beyond that, ensure your clients continue to get good guidance towards a healthy, active lifestyle.

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