A Healing Treatment
For people with arthritis, massage can be the perfect
Katie Newell was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis when she was
4 years old. Then, when she was 25, she was diagnosed with
ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the
It was then that Newell vowed to be healthier and take better
care of herself. Now 30, she focuses on healthy eating and
exercise, as well as regular massages at Massage Envy to manage her
"Since I made these lifestyle changes and started regular
massage, I have not had any more fusion in my spine," says Newell,
a mother of two and author of the blog HealthNutFoodie.com. "I can
stand up straighter. And while I might feel a little sore the next
day, for a week or two after, I can notice my pain level
Massage and Arthritis
Arthritis affects 50 million Americans-and not just older
adults. There are more than 100 types of the condition, which is an
inflammation of the joints that causes pain, swelling and
Newell is experiencing the benefits that researchers at the
Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School
have been exploring.
"What these studies report is a reduction of pain, which is
typically the focus of an arthritis study," says Tiffany Field,
Ph.D., the institute's director.
Part of that pain relief, says Patience White, M.D., M.A., vice
president of public health for the Arthritis Foundation, is
massage's ability to relax the muscle.
"In general, if you have a swollen joint, the muscles and
tendons around that joint are stretched and become tight," Dr.
White says. "When there's limited mobility in the joint and you try
to move it, it is painful. What you want to do is coax that muscle
Massage has been
shown to increase serotonin, which is one of the body's natural
chemicals for reducing pain, Dr. Field says. She also notes the
relaxation that massage induces helps normalize your sleep cycle,
another benefit for reducing pain.
For optimal benefit, she recommends "moderate" pressure-meaning
the skin moves so you can see pressure is being applied.
But, Dr. White adds, it's important to know your body. "When
people are in a fl are or joints are painful, then massage therapy
around and over those joints may not be comfortable," she says.
Go Ahead, Relax!
Treating arthritis, Dr. White says, isn't just about the
"It's also about the tension and stress of having arthritis. Stress
relief is critically important."
Seth Ginsberg, who was diagnosed with a type of arthritis called
spondyloarthropathy at age 13, experiences pain that ranges in
severity as a result of his condition, and has found physical and
mental benefits of regular massages.
"The way I feel after a massage really does help me. My ability
to de-stress is really valuable," says Ginsberg, the president of
the Global Healthy Living Foundation and co-founder of
CreakyJoints, an arthritis advocacy group. "I'm a believer that the
mind and the body are connected, and I like doing things that are
great for both."
The reduction of the hormone cortisol, Dr. Field explains, eases
improves the immune system.
Regular massage isn't just a luxury for people like Newell and
Ginsberg who have arthritis. It's an adjunct therapy for caring for
their disease and easing the pain that accompanies it.
"Don't be afraid to take time for yourself," Newell says.
"You're making an investment in yourself."
-By Stephanie R. Conner
-Photography By Jeff Newton