Massage therapy "seems to be a viable option" as an addition to other treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee, write the researchers.
Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is mainly seen in older adults. In osteoarthritis, joints are damaged as cartilage, the joints' shock absorbers, wears down.
Osteoarthritis often affects the knees, making it hard to walk. The disease can become disabling.
Massage might improve joint flexibility and circulation, note the researchers, including Adam Perlman, MD, MPH, and David Katz, MD, MPH.
Perlman works at the Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Katz is on staff at Yale University's medical school.
"Massage is free of any known side effects and, according to our results, clearly shows therapeutic promise," Katz says in a Yale news release.
The massage study focused on Swedish massage, the most widely available type in the U.S.
Swedish massage uses long strokes, kneading, and tapping techniques to target the muscles closest to the skin.
The study included 68 knee osteoarthritis patients who were at least 35 years old (average age: 66-70).
Most were white women. All lived in northern New Jersey and had X-rays confirming a knee osteoarthritis diagnosis.
First, patients rated their knee pain, stiffness, and function. Then, they were split into two similar groups.
For a month, patients in one group got two weekly Swedish massages, followed by a month of weekly Swedish massages. Each massage lasted an hour.
For comparison, patients in the other group waited two months before getting the same massage treatment.
After eight weeks of massage, patients reported less knee pain and stiffness and better knee function.
"Massage therapy seems to be efficacious in the treatment of OA [osteoarthritis] of the knee," write the researchers.
They call for further studies on other types of massage and the cost-effectiveness of massage treatment.
SOURCES: Perlman, A. Archives of Internal Medicine, Dec. 11/25, 2006; vol 166: pp 2533-2538. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Handout on Health: Osteoarthritis." News release, Yale University. WebMD Feature: "Massage 101: The World of Touch."
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang