arthritis pain

Arthritis pain is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Researchers recently investigated whether massages can help alleviate the pain.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints caused by injury or overuse. This causes a thinning of the joint cartilage, which acts as a cushion between bones. As that cushion is worn away, arthritis pain in the joint increases and can cause a loss of mobility. Typical treatment includes pain medication, physical therapy, or surgery.

A team of researchers from Duke University Medical Center conducted a United States study of individuals with arthritis pain, which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The study examined whether a whole body massage could help alleviate arthritis pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. They also assessed the long-term effects of continuing massage therapy.

Three different groups received different treatments

Study participants were 35 or older, had osteoarthritis of the knee as shown by x-ray, and suffered moderate to severe arthritis pain. A total of 175 people completed the study. The participants were randomly placed into one of three groups: full body massage, light-touch, and usual arthritis pain care.

For the first eight weeks of the study, the full-body massage group received a whole-body massage for one hour per week. The light-touch group received one hour per week of light-touch, which involved massage therapists placing their hands in a specific order on major muscle groups and joints. The usual care group received standard medical care for arthritis pain.
After eight weeks, each group member’s pain was assessed by a validated pain questionnaire. Members also completed other accepted pain measurements, such as a visual pain scale, knee range of motion and timed 50-ft walk. Then the groups were randomly rearranged to assess the usefulness of continuing less frequent “maintenance” massages.

For the rest of the 52-week study, members of the massage and the light-touch groups were split. Half continued to receive the same one-hour massage or light-touch they received during the first eight weeks, but every two weeks instead. The other half of each group were switched to usual medical care for arthritis pain.

After week 24 the members of the original usual medical care group received weekly massages for eight weeks. Then they were also split, and half received full body massages for an hour every other week. The other half received usual medical care for 16 weeks. All participants, regardless of their group, assessed their pain levels at predetermined intervals throughout the study.

Massage therapy reduces arthritis pain

Researchers found the eight-week massage group experienced the most significant relief from arthritis pain. While those that received “maintenance massages” continued to experience relief, the improvement was not as significant as those in the original eight-week group.

The study group was small in number, and the majority of study members were Caucasian females, which could limit the results of the study. Also, the light-touch group experienced a higher dropout rate, and the group members and massage therapists could have been biased. Researchers recommend further studies comparing the effects of light-touch versus massage.

What is clear from this study is that massage therapy is a proven way to reduce arthritis pain and lower dependence on medicine. It can also allow osteoarthritis sufferers to resume activities that will increase their overall health and wellbeing.

Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.


  1. Perlman A, Fogerite S, Glass O et al. Efficacy and Safety of Massage for Osteoarthritis of the Knee: a Randomized Clinical Trial. J Gen Intern Med. 2018. doi:10.1007/s11606-018-4763-5
  2. Osteoporosis and Arthritis: Two Common but Different Conditions | NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Published 2016. Accessed January 4, 2019.
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