Can Massage Therapy Help Treat Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Massage therapy provides many benefits, especially for those who experience pain. Osteoarthritis of the knee can cause pain that may not always be fully addressed with standard treatment options. With regular massage therapy, many people with osteoarthritis are able to manage their pain, increase their physical capabilities, and enjoy active lives.

What Is Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease of the joints that worsens over time. It affects approximately 50 million people in the United States. The personal and financial costs of OA may include:

  • More than $185 billion on OA medical care each year
  • More than $10 billion in losses for businesses each year due to absenteeism
  • Serious side effects from pharmaceuticals that target OA
  • Limited effectiveness from medication options, so patients often have to choose between surgery and debilitating pain

In recent decades, millions of people have explored the potential of massage therapy to relieve the pain of many ailments, such as physical injuries, cancer, diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions, and others. If their needs are not fully met with other treatment options, many OA patients may turn to massage therapy for relief.

Is Massage Safe for Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital reviewed previous research papers on massage and other complementary therapies. They pointed out the safety of massage therapy for OA patients, as well as its healing effects.

They determined massage therapy is safe and effective for OA patients, even when combined with exercise therapy. Research shows patients who receive massage therapy in addition to standard treatments often fare better than those who only receive standard treatments.

For example, researchers at Spain’s University of Alcala studied 18 women who received both massage and exercise therapy or exercise therapy by itself. After six weeks of treatment, the patients who received both therapies showed better results even three months after treatment.

Efficacy of Massage Therapy for Osteoarthritis

A research team at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey studied 68 adults with OA who received Swedish massage for eight weeks (biweekly for the first four weeks and weekly for the second four weeks). Participants experienced a reduction in pain and stiffness, as well as an increase in physical function, including range of motion and walking speed.

Research shows self-massage may also have benefits for OA. A pair of post-doctoral researchers at the Holos University Graduate Seminary observed 40 adults with OA diagnoses. For six weeks, study participants followed a 20-minute narrated self-massage program (both supervised and unsupervised). These people experienced pain and stiffness reductions (though they did not experience the range-of-motion benefits associated with massage by trained therapists).

A research team at the Duke University Medical Center and the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center studied 25 veterans with OA who received eight weekly massage therapy sessions. In addition to finding the same positive effects as other researchers (pain reduction, stiffness alleviation, and increased function), these researchers pointed out the positive inclination of the study participants toward massage. Given the popularity, safety, and affordability of massage therapy (especially home therapy), the researchers highlighted the potential of massage for treating a variety of physical and mental health issues (especially post-deployment).

Can Massage Therapy Help OA Patients Walk More Easily?

A research team from China used six infrared cameras and a motion analysis system to study the gaits of 20 women with OA. Participants received traditional Chinese massage three times a week for two weeks.

In addition to the pain relief, lowered levels of stiffness, and greater mobility noted by other research teams, the researchers observed improvements in specific physical functions. They found massage therapy helped the study participants walk significantly faster and increase the distance between steps. The researchers also measured the total time patients put weight on their joints and saw substantial improvements.

In a follow-up study, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey team partnered with colleagues from the Duke and Yale Schools of Medicine to study a group of 125 OA patients. The researchers gave study participants massage treatments either weekly or biweekly for either 30 or 60 minutes.

The researchers found 60 minutes of massage a week provided more benefits than the other durations and intervals studied. Participants who received 60-minute massages experienced decreased pain, increased range of motion, and faster walk speeds. Even those who received massages only biweekly for 30 minutes experienced less stiffness than those who did not get massages.

Future of Massage Therapy Research for OA Patients

As more people experiment with complementary therapies to address health, wellness, and quality of life, researchers continue to pay attention to these treatments. It is recommended you talk with your doctor about what types of massage are safe to try, explore your options, find a qualified massage therapist, and see what works best for you.


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12 Popular Massage Techniques and How They Help You

Are you new to massage therapy? Whether you’re an experienced person looking to expand your self-care horizons or a massage newbie, you’ll likely be amazed by the number of available massage therapy techniques and practices and the benefits they can bring you.

For those of you trying massage therapy for the first time, or for those looking to explore new techniques for health and wellness, here’s 12 of the most popular massage and bodywork practices and some info on how they might benefit you:


Acupressure therapists use the same meridian system as acupuncture practitioners, but without the needles!

For more than 5,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have developed and refined this traditional healing art. Acupressurists, as they are called, use their hands to apply pressure to trigger points throughout the body. This technique is believed to unblock “stuck” body energy and open up the pathway for healing energy to return the mind and body to a state of wellness.

Acupressure has been used to treat sexual dysfunction, stress, and for beauty purposes. Acupression, for example, may improve the skin, tone facial muscles, and help the body relieve congestions.

Aromatherapy Massage

Ancient cultures across the globe have practiced massage and aromatherapy. Chinese, Egyptian, and Indian practitioners, for example, have incorporated these modalities into many of their medicinal traditions. Ancient Greeks and Romans used these techniques not only for healing and relaxation but also for spiritual enlightenment. Massage therapists who combine massage and aromatherapy may provide clients with a deeper, more relaxing experience than a standard massage.

While you’re getting your massage, inhale your favorite scent or have your practitioner recommend one to meet your individual needs, such as lavender for stress and anxiety relief.

Chair Massage

Many people first experience the benefits of massage and bodywork in the form of chair massage. Chair massage therapists, sometimes spotted in shopping malls and airports, use special chairs that allow clients to remain fully clothed and mostly upright.

This often quick, soothing form of massage allows people to take a quick and healthful break from their busy day. Researchers have shown that even these short massage breaks reduce people’s heart rates, blood pressure, and, of course, stress and anxiety levels.

Many corporations have found that periodically offering chair massage as a benefit to their employees increases productivity, focus, and morale. In only 10-20 minutes, your staff can enjoy the stress relief, health benefits, and team-building experience of chair massage in the convenience of your workplace.

Chinese Massage

Chinese tui na massage practitioners employ rhythmic compression methods to free up and balance “qi” (body energy). These massage therapists combine energy work and meridian release elements of related practices like acupressure and acupuncture, without using any needles. Tui na also involves many of the rubbing and kneading techniques common to most Western massage styles.

Gua Sha

This ancient Chinese practice roughly translates into English as “scraping away fever.” Traditional practitioners of gua sha used bone, stone, jade, or horn implements to rub their clients’ oiled skin. Today, gua sha therapists tend to use rounded plastic tools to offer their clients a less painful and more modern hygienic experience. Gua sha practitioners use these implements to rub their clients’ backs and shoulders to increase circulation beneath the skin (often using a soothing, lubricating balm).

Medical researchers have found evidence that this simple technique encourages the body to release many powerful healing effects. As the body reabsorbs the blood from the treated areas (which often appear red and blotchy for a few days), it releases chemicals that fight infection, reduce inflammation, and protect cells.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage therapists heat special stones in a sanitary solution and place them on their clients’ backs, in their palms, and even between their toes. Like the popular Swedish style of massage, hot stone massage therapists may use oils to lubricate their clients’ surface tissues before employing deep tissue techniques.

Your hot stone massage practitioner may even rub your muscles lengthwise with the heated stones to release even more tension.

Lomi Lomi

Traditional Hawaiian healers called “kahunas” employed massage techniques in conjunction with meditation, plant-based medicine, and breath work. Also sometimes referred to as Hawaiian temple medicine, lomi lomi massage can help you activate mana (life energy) to increase well-being, increase circulation, and lower blood pressure.

Myofascial Release

Connective tissues called fascia run throughout your entire body. They surround and support your muscles, which means they can inhibit range of motion when tightened by overuse, injury, or surgical recovery.
Unlike massage therapists, who work on muscles and soft tissues, myofascial release practitioners focus on fascial lengthening and softening to reduce pain and increase mobility.

Orthopedic Massage

Orthopedic massage practitioners focus on correcting malformed bones and muscles with massage therapy techniques. These therapists help their clients manage pain, achieve better alignment and posture, and improve joint function.


Reflexology therapists massage their clients’ hands and feet to activate inner healing. This practice bears many similarities to acupressure and acupuncture, but, again, without using any needles. Reflexology practitioners manipulate points on their patients’ bodies that correspond with internal organs.

This healing modality can trigger your autonomous nervous system and increase hormone production.


Named after its founder, Ida Rolf, this massage technique involves may involved a little more discomfort than some gentler styles. Also known as structural integration, this style of massage may greatly improve your posture and range of motion.

Rolfing practitioners assist their clients in achieving moderately difficult yoga-like poses to realign their musculoskeletal systems and bear their body weight better with proper posture.

Russian Massage

Modern Russian massage, sometimes called Russian sports massage, was once only available to athletes, the ill, and the injured. Russian (and Soviet) physicians advanced the science and practice of massage on the battlefield and in the sports arena. Russia, a comparatively massage-friendly nation, has provided some of the world’s top massage researchers and therapists.

Russian bath houses, called banyas, still offer traditional Russian massage venik (or “twigging”) treatments which involve hitting clients (gently) with oak or birch branches. However, modern Russian massage practitioners use their hands to relieve pain and increase range of motion with kneading, percussive, and even vibration techniques.

And There’s More!

Some consider Reiki a form of massage; others view it as energy- or bodywork. Like massage therapists, Reiki practitioners place their hands on their clients’ bodies; however, they don’t rub and knead soft tissues. Simply by placing their hands on a patient (for up to 10 minutes a position), Reiki masters are believed to be able to transmit healing energy and clear out negative thoughts and emotion.

Whether you choose to find a massage therapist for an intense, relaxing, spiritual, or practical massage style, remember you can always return to this site (and this article) to explore new and different massage therapy options. You can also click the relevant links to dig deeper into these types of massage to discover their history, medical science, and modern practice—as well as what to expect from your first massage session!


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