Arthritis: Myths and Facts

how can massage help with osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is an inevitable consequence of getting older

myth
It is commonly thought that osteoarthritis is due to wear and tear as we age – but this isn’t inevitable and is far from the full story. There are several factors thought to increase the risk of developing the condition including genetics and having a joint injury in the past, especially if it was overused before it was given enough time to heal. Recent studies suggest osteoarthritis may be caused by activation of a chain reaction in the bodies defence mechanism causing low grade chronic inflammation.

 

Regular massage therapy can lead to improvements in the sypmtoms of osteoarthritis

fact
Recent studies on the effects of massage for arthritis symptoms have shown regular use of massage therapy led to improvements in pain, stiffness, range of motion, hand grip strength and overall function of the joints.
Arthritis Foundation

 

Osteoarthritis is made worse by being big and heavy

myth
It isn’t so much about how big you are and more about how much fat you are carrying. Interestingly, the loss of body fat is more closely related to symptom relief than the loss of body weight, it has been suggested that there may be a metabolic link to body fat as opposed to just excessive strain on the joint.
British Medical Journal 

 

Massage therapy is useful in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee

fact
Massage therapy is efficacious in the treatment of OA of the knee, with beneficial effects persisting for weeks following treatment cessation. Massage therapy seems to be well tolerated by people with painful OA of the knee.
Journal of the American Medical Association – internal medicine

 

X-rays are the best way to diagnose osteoarthritis

myth
In fact x-rays aren’t especially useful in diagnosing osteoarthritis and can be misleading. The severity of the symptoms may be totally unrelated to how the joint appears on x-ray. The majority of people over 40 show some signs of osteoarthritis (seven out of ten people over the age of seventy show signs) although most don’t develop symptoms. On the other hand some people have a perfectly normal x-ray but suffer excruciating symptoms.

 

Massage can lead to reduction in pain for people with arthritis

fact
Regular massage of muscles and joints, can lead to a significant reduction in pain for people with arthritis, according to Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Arthritis Foundation

 

Bats and sloths are the only known animals that do not develop arthritis

myth
It has often been quoted that bats and sloths are the only known animals that do not develop arthritis – the reason being that they don’t put as much pressure on their joints because they hang upside-down. Nice theory, but not true – bats have been found with arthritis of the knee and carpal joints.

 

Osteoarthritis causes nodes on the finger joints

fact
Bony enlargement on the end joints of the fingers (Heberden nodes) or on the middle joint of the fingers (Bouchard nodes) are a sign of osteoarthritis of the hand.

 

Joints are like the bearings on a car which wear out the more you use them

myth
Cartilage in the joints isn’t inert; it is living tissue capable of regeneration. Recent research showed that running significantly reduced arthritis and hip replacement risk. The benefits of exercise include lower body fat and stronger muscles protecting the joint (studies have shown that people with weak thigh muscles are more likely to develop osteoarthritis).

 

Osteoarthritis pain usually worsens through the day

fact
Osteoarthritis pain tends to get worse through the day whereas other types of arthritis tend to be worse in the morning or remain the same during the day.
However, osteoarthritis can cause stiffness in the morning but this usually lasts for less than half an hour.

 

Cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis

myth
Doctor Donald Unger cracked the knuckles of his left hand every day for more than sixty years, but he did not crack the knuckles of his right hand. He did not develop arthritis or other ailments in either hand. This earned him the 2009 Ig-Nobel Prize in Medicine, a parody of the Nobel Prize. Researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, USA, carried out a study – “Knuckle Cracking and Hand Osteoarthritis” – published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (April 2011 issue). This did not show any link between knuckle cracking and osteoarthritis. If cracking is accompanied by pain, there could be underlying abnormalities of the structures of the joint, such as loose cartilage or injured ligaments. No one knows for certain what causes joints to crack but the most likely theory involves cavitation within the joint— where small cavities of partial vacuum form in the synovial fluid and then rapidly collapse, producing a sharp sound.

 

High heeled shoes can increase your risk of osteoarthritis

fact
Although no type of shoe can prevent osteoarthritis some types are better than others. Flip flops and tennis shoes with flexible soles can ease the symptoms of OA and high heels can make it worse.
MedicineNet

 

Cod liver oil ‘lubricates’ the joints

myth
It’s not true that cod liver oil ‘lubricates’ the joints, but they have been found to help relieve pain and inflammation if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. They are also showing some promise in people who suffer from osteoarthritis.

 

Further reading and references

‘Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy – A Decision Tree Approach’
Tracy Walton

‘Massage for Orthopedic Conditions’
Thomas Hendrickson

‘Rheumatology and Orthopaedics’
Coote, Haslam

‘Osteoarthritis results from inflammatory process, not just wear and tear, study suggests’
Stanford School of Medicine

‘Effects of running and walking on osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk’
Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, USA.

‘Why Don’t Most Runners Get Knee Osteoarthritis?’
American College of Sports Medicine

‘Change in body mass index during middle age affects risk of total knee arthoplasty due to osteoarthritis: A 19-year prospective study of 1003 women’
NIHR Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Windmill Rd., University of Oxford

A Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy Research
A meta-analysis was conducted of studies that used random assignment to test the effectiveness of Massage Therapy. Mean effect sizes were calculated from 37 studies for 9 dependent variables. Single applications of MT reduced state anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate but not negative mood, immediate assessment of pain, and cortisol level. Multiple applications reduced delayed assessment of pain. Reductions of trait anxiety and depression were Massage Therapy’s largest effects, with a course of treatment providing benefits similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy.
American Psychology Association

Cortisol Decreases and Serotonin and Dopamine Increase Following Massage Therapy
In this article the positive effects of massage therapy on biochemistry are reviewed including decreased levels of cortisol and increased levels of serotonin and dopamine.
Department of Pharmacology, Duke University Medical School, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Correspondence: TIFFANY FIELD, Touch Research Institutes, University of Miami School of Medicine
International Journal of NeuroScience

Diseases in Free-Ranging Bats from Germany
BMC Veterinary Research

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