osteoarthritis, massage therapy, oa, knee oa, massage

Osteoarthritis and Massage Therapy

Researchers published results of their study (Ali, Rosenberger, Weiss, Milak, & Perlman, 2016), investigating the effects of Swedish massage techniques on patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. The study’s aim was to investigate how massage therapy could help patients’ quality of life while living with OA.


Murphy & Helmick (2012) wrote that 10% of Americans suffer from OA. OA can cause severe pain, and may limit the physical abilities of the affected person. This can have an effect on the person’s daily life, as daily activities may become more challenging and/or painful. Other researchers (Perlman, Sabina, Williams, Njike, & Katz, 2006) previously held a study in which they tested whether massage therapy for OA of the knee was feasible, safe, and effective, and found that it was successful, including increasing functionality and decreasing pain.


For this new study, the researchers instead wanted to see how massage affected the emotional aspects of OA. A previous study by Hsu, Bluespruce, Sherman, & Cherkin (2010) investigated complementary and alternative treatments for people suffering from chronic back pain. The study found that these treatments increased positive emotional states for patients, as well as feelings of hope, improved their ability to relax, and also improved their ability to cope with the back pain.


For this study, the researchers used purposive sampling to find 18 adults as research participants. The qualitative study measured results through in-person and telephone interviews, both before and after treatment. Questions from these interviews asked about attitudes towards massage therapy and OA, as well as changes in these attitudes or lifestyle post-treatment. Participants were randomly assigned to receive 8 weeks of Swedish massage weekly or biweekly, for a session of 30 or 60 minutes. Researchers noted that this massage style was used due to its popularity in the United States, as it includes effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, vibration, friction, and skin rolling.


After 8 weeks, the participants discussed feelings of greater relaxation and a better quality of life. 44% of participants said the massages made it easier for them to relax, and half of said that the massage affected their “thoughts, feelings, reactions, and activities” (p. 5). However, some patients said the 30 minute sessions were too short, as it would end just as they were beginning to relax.


44% of participants also told researchers that the massage therapy improved their quality of life. These include functional abilities, emotional moods, mental state (including outlook on life), and overall well-being. Some participants explained that the massage had improved their physical abilities, so that they were able to carry out daily activities that OA had prevented before. One participant even told researchers that she needed her anti-inflammatory medication less, as the massage provided pain relief from her OA.


Almost a quarter of the participants reported short-term pain relief from massage therapy. In addition, 13 participants informed researchers that they believed massage therapy was an effective treatment for OA. Many of the participants explained their satisfaction with massage therapy, but were unhappy that massage therapy was not more available as a method of medical treatment.


These participants explained their unhappiness that insurance would not cover massage therapy as a method of treatment for their OA. Many believed its effectiveness warranted coverage through insurance. Researchers asked 10 participants if they would pursue massage therapy as treatment for their OA, if covered by insurance, and all 10 participants answered that they would.


This new research shows how massage therapy does more beyond physical healing and comfort, but stretches into improving the emotional aspects of chronic pain. Massage therapy continues to provide vast benefits to recipients, both physical and emotional.




Ali, A., Rosenberger, L., Weiss, T. R., Milak, C., & Perlman, A. I. (2016). Massage Therapy and Quality of Life in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Qualitative Study. Pain Med Pain Medicine. doi:10.1093/pm/pnw217

Hsu, C., Bluespruce, J., Sherman, K., & Cherkin, D. (2010). Unanticipated Benefits of CAM Therapies for Back Pain: An Exploration of Patient Experiences. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(2), 157-163. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0188

Murphy, L., & Helmick, C. G. (2012). The Impact of Osteoarthritis in the United States. Orthopaedic Nursing, 31(2), 85-91. doi:10.1097/nor.0b013e31824fcd42

Perlman AI, Sabina A, Williams A, Njike VY, Katz DL. (2006). Massage Therapy for Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Intern Med. 166(22), 2533-2538. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.22.2533