There are alternative therapies for arthritis that are becoming more popular, and if you have arthritis you might want to turn to massage to address both your pain and the stiffness of your condition and your general well-being. Maybe you haven’t tried massage yet because you don’t know what to expect, your not sure that massage is a good idea for your joint pain and inflammation, or maybe you don’t know where to find a good massage therapist. This article will address these valid concerns and show you how massage can be an important part of your effective arthritis management.

So What is a massage? You will have a trained professional known as a massage therapist, who presses, rubs, strokes, kneads, and otherwise manipulates the muscles and soft tissues of your body. Massage is one of the oldest healing arts. The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Greeks are all known to have practiced it. Massage became accepted in the United States in the mid 1800’s only to disappear in the following century and not revive until the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Today, there are well over 100,000 massage therapists at work in the United States. They practice massage in many settings, from hospitals to health clubs to private studios. People go to them for many different reasons: to ease pain, to rehabilitate from injury, to reduce stress, to ease anxiety and depression, and to improve general well-being.

While there are more than 250 varieties of massage techniques, most practitioners use one or more of a few basic methods. Many use a form of Swedish massage, which employs long, flowing strokes meant to be calming and relaxing. As your body becomes relaxed, the massage therapist can also apply focused pressure to relieve areas of muscular tension. Other popular forms of massage include deep tissue massage, which features strong pressure on deeper layers of tissue, and myofascial release, in which long, stretching strokes releases the tension in the fascia (the connective tissue around the muscles). There are also the Asian techniques of acupressure and shiatsu, which use finger pressure on specific points on the body, and the technique called reflexology, which upholds that rubbing certain points on the feet, hands, or ears has a positive effect on various body parts.

What are the benefits of massage? If you have a chronic condition, massage can have numerous benefits. If done correctly, massage can provide a wonderful break from the stress of living with arthritis or another stressful condition. It can aid in relaxation, which by itself helps healing and reduces es stress. It can also reduce pain, improve joint movement, relax tense muscles, and stimulate blood flow. But, massage for those of you who have arthritis should be handled as a complementary therapy, that is, one that is used in combination with, and not to replace, other regular medical treatments such as pain medicine or physical therapy. Listed below you will find five ways that massage can benefit you, even if you don’t have arthritis.

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One is relaxation. The best and probably the biggest benefit is relaxation, that’s number one. Massage should bring a sense of well-being to the body. Mary Kathleen Rose is a certified massage therapist in Colorado and after 25 years of experience, and much of that working with those with chronic conditions, she has developed a style of massage she calls Comfort Touch that is characterized by slow, broad, and surrounding pressure. It’s not known exactly why or how massage encourages relaxation. Some speculate that massage triggers the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, (which supports the body’s restorative processes), muscle tension is improved, the heart rate slows, and the fight-or-flight response is revered.

Your circulation changes. While the mechanism is not well understood, massage is also thought to encourage the flow of lymph in the body. (Lymph is a fluid that circulates throughout the body; the cells in lymph help fight infection and disease.) Massage can also increase the flow of blood. However, exercise actually has a greater effect on increasing circulation than massage does. And during a relaxing massage, local circulation may increase, but systemic circulation actually slows down, as evidenced by lowered blood pressure, lower body temperature, and slower breathing. This may explains why many people actually become cooler during massage.

You’ll get pain relief. There is some evidence that massage can actually relieve pain. Those who are getting massages certainly think it does. There was a study done by the American Massage Therapy Association that showed 93% of the people who tried a massage, felt it was effective for their pain relief and there are many theories out there for why a massage relieves pain. But, there are some researchers who speculate that massage encourages the release of pain-relieving hormones or that massage may block pain signals that are sent to the brain.

You’ll have improved joint movement. Through the use of direct pressure, massage can affect the muscles and connective tissues in the body, increasing mobility. This can help increase the range of motion in the joints and lesson stiffness in the muscles, tendons and ligaments for those who have arthritis.

There are also psychological benefits. The psychological benefits from massages are well documented. Massage can change your mood, alleviate any anxiety and depression you may have, and improve your feelings of well-being and safety and this is why so many people will turn to massage.

How do you choose the right massage therapist? Before you go looking for a massage therapist, you should talk to your doctor about whether or not it’s a good idea for you. If you have certain conditions, such as dermatomyositis or severe osteoporosis (the thinning of your bones), your doctor may advise you not to try massages. Once you have the go ahead from your doctor, you can start looking for a massage therapist, but you will want to make sure that they have the necessary education and licensing. It might be a good idea to find one who has worked with people with arthritis and who you’re comfortable with. The person you choose should be someone you feel safe with, safe enough to tell them your needs and what you prefer. Please, don’t be afraid to give feedback if something doesn’t feel right or is uncomfortable or causes pain. A good massage therapist will ask you questions about your current medical conditions, if you’re experiencing a flare-up, or about the severity and frequency of your symptoms, such as your pain or your level of functionality.

You will want to avoid the therapist who makes claims suggesting that massage will fix or cure your arthritis, and you can seek either a male or female massage therapist. For some, it makes no difference whether the therapist is male or female.

Be sure that your massage therapist is trained properly and is certified. The golden standard for certification is the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB). In order to be certified by the NCBTMB, a massage therapist has to have had at least 500 hours of instruction and have passed a national exam. The majority of states require that massage therapists be licensed in the state before they practice and state licenses may be even more difficult to get than the NCBTMB licenses and usually have to be renewed every couple of years. You may want to also investigate whether the training program your massage therapist attended is accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA).

Here is a list of sources that can help you find a massage therapist:

Integrative medicine centers, especially those affiliated with academic centers or hospitals;

Referrals from friends, particularly any whose condition is similar to yours;

Senior centers, which usually have a network of practitioners, including massage therapists, who can make house calls.

It doesn’t matter who you massage therapist is or what type of massage you are getting, the massage shouldn’t hurt. Those of you who have arthritis are already in pain and you don’t need more. So, before you have a massage it’s important to think about whether any of the following suggestions apply to you.

Your therapist should avoid places that are very painful or that have limited function, that means you will have to let your massage therapist know what your present condition is before the massage and continually let him know how you’re feeling during the massage. Your therapist should also avoid any techniques such as deep tissue work that might aggravate those painful areas. In most cases if there is arthritis in a specific joint, it’s best to just avoid direct, deep pressure. Your therapist should also use a broad, full-hand contact pressure instead of the gliding and kneading strokes of the classic Swedish massage.

The next thing is to avoid any uncomfortable positions. If you have arthritis of the neck, you will not want to be face down, instead you will want to lie down with your face up or on your side with a pillow under your head. Now, if you are having trouble climbing up on the table, the therapist can lower the table or provide a stool to help you climb up. There are even some massage therapists who will come to your home so that the massage can be tailored to your own special situation.

Special considerations for Osteoarthritis (OA) or Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

If you have osteoarthritis (OA), make sure the massage therapist avoids direct contact on the areas of pain, the affected joints, themselves. Using gentle and broad pressure to muscles surrounding the joints can bring relief. For those with rheumatoid arthritis, they should avoid all direct pressure on the areas of pain or inflammation. There is a technique that uses slower movements that can bring relief to the areas of the tension surrounding the affected areas.

Also, the simple holding of an area while letting the warmth from the therapists hands penetrate the tissues, can be very soothing and the gentle moving of your arm can help encourage local circulation of blood and lymph and promote greater mobility.

When should you cancel your appointment with the massage therapist? If you’re having a flare-up, it would probably be a good idea to avoid a massage. When you get to know how you’ll respond to touch, you’ll get a better idea of when it’s the right or the wrong time to get a message.

This is what you can expect during your visit to the massage therapist. You should have already discussed your medical condition with your therapist before you made your appointment, but your therapist should still ask you about any special areas of concern just before the session. If this is your first time, let the massage therapist know that you’ve never had a massage before and that you’re nervous. Talk to the therapist and tell him exactly what you want out of the session, and discuss what part of your body needs the most attention. A typical full body massage includes the back, arms, legs, feet, hands, head, neck, and shoulders, but you can also exclude any of these, or maybe you want him or her to concentrate on a certain area.

The average cost of a massage can vary widely, ranging from $30 to $120 and up per hour. Check with your insurance provider to see if they pay for a massage because a lot of times when it’s ordered by your doctor there is a good chance your insurance will pay for it. A full-body massage usually last for about an hour or you can get a half-hour partial-body massage or you may want to get just a 20 or 30 minute session to see how your body responds.

Usually massages are done while you’re lying down on a table but they can be customized to your own situation, and they are usually done with oil, but they don’t have to be done that way. You might have a reaction to the scented oils the therapist uses so you may want to ask the therapist to use an unscented lotion instead of the oil, especially for the areas that have inflammation. Another thing, most massages are done without clothes, but if you’re not comfortable taking your clothes off the practitioner will leave the room while you undress and get yourself on the table, that will be covered with a clean sheet. You should be covered up at all times to keep yourself warm and comfortable with the area being worked on the only thing that is uncovered.

You can give yourself a massage, but it isn’t as relaxing. There are self-massaging techniques that can help ease your pain and tension but it isn’t nearly as relaxing as the traditional massage. Your hands, arms, legs and feet are good, easy-to-reach areas that can benefit from self-massage. But, remember to avoid those inflamed joints, your therapist can show you some techniques that are unique to your situation. Here is a list of just a few more general suggestions for self-massage:

Place one hand on a joint in your leg, and use your other hand to press down on the hand that is on your leg. This strategy uses the hand’s warmth to penetrate the joint.

Knead a spot for a short time, 15 to 20 seconds is often sufficient. Grasp the muscle area between your palm or thumb and your fingers. Lift it slightly and squeeze as if you were kneading dough. Work into the muscle with slow, regular squeeze-and-release motions.

Cup your hand over a tense muscle. Glide your hand firmly over the length of the muscle in slow repeated movements. Apply various amounts of pressure to find what feels best.