Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic, progressive autoimmune disease that affects the lining of the joints, and causes painful swelling, inflammation, stiffness, weakness, and loss of mobility.

Arthritis is crippling. It can turn a beautiful, sunny day into one centered around pain, full of aches that just won’t stop. As research continues and people search for that magic wand that will help the pain go away, some people have found relief with a very hands-on approach: massage.

According to a recent study, 9% of Americans suffering from arthritis regularly turn to massage for relief of the symptoms. How does that work? Research suggests that massage can have a positive effect on the body’s production of certain hormones linked to blood pressure, anxiety, heart rate, and other key vital signs. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine conducted several studies on the benefits of massage, including pain relief for people with arthritis. Regular use of this simple therapy led to improvements in pain, stiffness, range of motion, handgrip strength, and overall function of the joints.

There are many different types of massage, from the 15-minute chair variety at the airport to the 90-minute luxury treatment at an expensive spa. For those who have never experienced a massage or weren’t sure they would enjoy it, a licensed massage therapist will first ask a lot of questions before any session begins. Identifying where your arthritic conditions exist will help the therapist customize an approach to help focus efforts on pain relief and the style of massage to be used. It could be a traditional Swedish massage involving long, fluid strokes of muscles and tissues; a deep-tissue massage focusing on both top and deeper layers of muscles and tissues, a hot stone massage, reflexology, trigger point massage, or one of many other styles.

Remember, massage is not medicine. It’s meant to complement your doctor-prescribed arthritis treatment. Your massage experience should be relaxing and should not increase your pain or anxiety. If you suffer from arthritis and haven’t tried massage therapy, great results could be just an appointment away.

Living With Arthritis: Focusing on Relief

Eleven years into her diagnosis, Jennifer Steffey is turning to massage therapy as a complement to her RA treatment plan with the hope that she will experience relief from her arthritis symptoms.

“I continue to push through, even on the days I feel like crawling back into bed and pulling the covers over my head until the pain is gone…”

Like many living with arthritis, Jennifer Steffey wakes up each morning, not knowing if her joints will move normally, slowly, or barely at all. She must listen to her body, staying in-tune with her every movement and turn, careful not to cause pain or further damage to her joints. During a flare-up, her pain is particularly bad, her energy is unusually low, and she often struggles to complete simple, everyday tasks.

“Sometimes I’ll go many days without pain,” says Jennifer, “then suddenly, I’m unable to get off of the floor after playing with my son, or I sit too long and stand up to realize that my feet and ankles are not quite ready to be mobile.”

More stiff and sore than normal, Jennifer was particularly excited for her first of many massage sessions geared toward reducing the severity of her arthritis symptoms. Because her feet, hands, ankles, and wrists were bothering her, she opted for a relaxation massage during her first session, which focuses on stress relief and general muscle tension.

“The massage felt good and seemed to release some fluid build-up. I did feel a little pain during my session,” said Jennifer, “mainly because I was swollen and flared up.”

Although arthritis sufferers may initially be apprehensive about touching, as the last thing they want to feel is more pain or risk greater inflammation, there are several different massage modalities customized to deal with these specific needs. Massage stimulates the flow of blood and nutrients to the skin and underlying tissues, while relaxation helps break the cycle of pain and stress that often accompanies arthritis.

We invite you to check back for updates on Jennifer’s story as well as share or comment on how your life, or the life of someone you love, has been impacted by arthritis pain.

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